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Music of Arkansas

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Title: Music of Arkansas  
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Subject: Arkansas, Index of Arkansas-related articles, Music of Alabama, Music of Alaska, Music of Arizona
Collection: Music of Arkansas, Music of the Southern United States, Music of United States Subdivisions
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Music of Arkansas

Arkansas is a Southern state of the United States. Arkansas's musical heritage includes country music and various related styles like bluegrass and rockabilly.


  • State songs 1
  • Arkansas Politicians and Music 2
  • Genres 3
    • Classical 3.1
    • Country, bluegrass, and folk music 3.2
    • Gospel 3.3
    • Blues and R&B 3.4
    • Jazz 3.5
    • Rock 3.6
    • Independent and local 3.7
  • Notable musicians from Arkansas 4
  • Festivals 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

State songs

Arkansas has four official state songs:

The reason for two of the official state songs is a copyright dispute. "Arkansas" was published in 1916 by the Central Music Company, written by Eva Ware Barnett and Will M. Ramsey (though state law only credits Mrs. Barnett). It became the official song on January 12, 1917. Until either 1945 or 1949, "Arkansas" was the only official song in Arkansas. At that time, there was a copyright dispute and the state adopted "The Arkansas Traveler" as the official song, a situation that remained unchanged until 1963. In that year, the copyright dispute was resolved and "Arkansas" became official again, until 1987, when it was changed to the official state anthem. In that year, "Arkansas (You Run Deep In Me)" and "Oh, Arkansas" were officially designated state songs as well, and "The Arkansas Traveler" was designated the official state historical song.[1]

Arkansas Politicians and Music

Two Arkansas politicians have been noted for mixing music with their campaigns for the presidency. Bill Clinton, attorney general and 50th and 52nd governor of the state and later president, played the saxophone, famously performing "Heartbreak Hotel" on The Arsenio Hall Show during the 1992 presidential election.[2] Mike Huckabee, 54th governor, plays the bass guitar, and his campaign in the 2008 presidential election has prominently featured cover song performances by his band Capitol Offense.[3]



Composer Florence Price was born in Little Rock in 1887.

Arkansas is home to several classical music associations.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1966.[4] When the orchestra was founded, a local bank held the organization responsible for the debts of previous attempts at organizing an orchestra. Ten individual members assumed responsibility for the debt, and so the orchestra was formed, led by experienced Holocaust memorial.[5]

There are also many regional orchestras and choir societies in the state. These groups are made up of local men and women and perform classical and contemporary music at various concerts and gatherings around the state.

Country, bluegrass, and folk music

Traditional folk instruments include the fiddle and banjo as well as guitar, mandolin, dulcimer and autoharp.

Located in the Ozark Mountains, the town of Mountain View bills itself as the "Folk Music Capital of the World". There is an Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame, which includes musicians like Ronnie Dunn, Melvin Endsley, Al Green, and Jimmy Driftwood.


Gospel music is very popular in Arkansas. Because of the racial tension past and present in the Delta region, gospel music has had a tremendous influence in the lives of African Americans in Arkansas.[6] While Blues is dominated by men, it is the women of Arkansas who have led the way in gospel music. Gospel composer, singer, pianist, arranger Roberta Martin was born in Helena. The Brockwell Gospel Music School in Brockwell, Arkansas in Izard County, has been offering a two-week summer course in Gospel music since 1947.[7]

Blues and R&B

Country blues singer and slide guitarist Casey Bill Weldon was born in Pine Bluff. Blues pianist Roosevelt Sykes was born in Elmar. Jump blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon was born in Gurdon. Electric blues and Chicago blues artist Willie "Big Eyes" Smith was born in Helena. Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Pat Hare, born in Cherry Valley, served as a sideman at Sun Records in Memphis. Billy Lee Riley, born in Pocahontas, and Sonny Burgess, born near Newport, also recorded for Sun.

West Memphis, just across the Mississippi river from Memphis, Tennessee, has its own thriving music scene. When Beale Street would shut down for the night, performers like BB King, Ike Turner, Junior Parker, and Elmore James came to 8th street in West Memphis. Wayne Jackson even said once that "the Memphis sound was born over the river".[8] Jackson was born and raised in West Memphis as was Chicago blues artist Junior Wells. The West Memphis R&B scene was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.[9]


Jazz artists born in Arkansas include pianist and bandleader Alphonse Trent from Fort Smith, trombonist Snub Mosley born in Little Rock, pianist and composer Walter Norris born in Little Rock, Joe Bishop born in Monticello, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders born in Little Rock, free jazz tenor saxophonist Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre born in Clarksville, tenor saxophonist Red Holloway born in Helena, tenor saxophonist and bandleader Hayes Pillars born in North Little Rock, Oliver Lake born in Marianna, pianist Bob Dorough born in Cherry Hill, bassist James Leary born in Little Rock, pianist Art Porter, Sr. and saxophonist Art Porter, Jr. born in Little Rock, and Amina Claudine Myers born in Blackwell.[10]


Sister Rosetta Tharpe from Cotton Plant was a gospel artist who achieved crossover success and became a rock and roll pioneer, influencing among many others fellow Arkansas native Johnny Cash from Kingsland. Sonny Burgess was another Arkansan who influenced the rock and roll industry as an artist for Sun Records in adjacent Memphis, Tennessee. Arkansas early rock and roll was typically rockabilly music influenced by Zydeco music and blues.[11]

Arkansas garage rock and psychedelic music of the 1960s has been reexamined by Psych of the South with Lost Souls.[12]

Independent and local

While Arkansas is known for its southern styles of music, there is a much younger style coming from the state as well. In the late 1990s, and early 2000s, there were many rock music groups, as well as pop rock groups. One of the best-known bands from this time would be multi-platinum-selling rock band Evanescence, which has origins in Little Rock.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Little Rock became the home of a thriving punk and metal music scene. This scene was captured in the 2007 film Towncraft. As the trends have changed, post-hardcore and metalcore have gained local popularity. Bands include Norma Jean, Blessthefall, and Fear Before the March of Flames. Doom Metal is represented by Pallbearer from Little Rock, while Rwake is known for southern sludge metal. American Princes from Little Rock show the indie rock side of Arkansas.

Young Freq is a rapper from Little Rock working with local independent label Roc Town Music Group, formed in 2013.[13]

Tommy Riggs (Tom Payton) is an Arkansan singer, piano and keyboard player who had several bands while performing around the state in the 1960s and 1970s. He also was working as a radio DJ (as Tom Jones) at the time, on KCLA, during 1968 through 69 and as Tom Payton on KXLR in North Little Rock in 1964, and in 1966 at KAAY. During this period, he promoted himself as Tom Payton and the Kingpins, Tom Payton with The Playboys, and several other names. He recorded while he was Rock Robbins from KAAY on the Little Rock label MY Records in 1966. Two songs from the session were released on a 45 rpm record, "My Little Girl" and "Good Lovin'".

Arkansas's rock and roll scene is served by a free monthly magazine launched by Peter Read on December 8, 1980 called Night Flying.[11]

Notable musicians from Arkansas


Among Arkansas's most prominent modern musical festivals is Riverfest, a music festival held along the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock. Riverfest has been held annually since 1978. Wakarusa is great festival held on Mulberry mountain near Ozark.


  1. ^ "Official State Songs". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  2. ^ "Bill Clinton Sax Arsenio Hall | Bill Clinton's sax solo on 'Arsenio' still resonates MEMORABLE MOMENTS - tribunedigital-baltimoresun". 1992-12-27. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  3. ^ "Breaking News | Latest News | Current News". Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  4. ^ "Little Rock Soirée | Fashion, Parties, Fundraisers, Events | The Who's Who in Arkansas | Little Rock Soiree Magazine". Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  5. ^ "George Takei to perform with Arkansas Symphony Orchestra |". 2012-02-06. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  6. ^ "Al Bell on Gospel Music roots in the Delta. Arkansas Mississippi River region. 2012 lecture Part 9". YouTube. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  7. ^ "Brockwell Gospel Music School". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  8. ^ "West Memphis Mojo Rises". Memphis Daily News. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  9. ^ "The legacy of MLK to the people and city of Memphis". 2015-01-19. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  10. ^ "Jazz". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  11. ^ a b "Rock and Roll Music". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  12. ^ "Home". Psych of the South. Retrieved 2015-10-26. 
  13. ^ "About Roc Town Music Group". Retrieved 2015-10-26. 

External links

  • Arkansas Symphony Orchestra
  • More information on Arkansas's state songs
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