This month, Robinson Center Music Hall will reopen after a two year renovation/restoration/remodeling/reconstruction. To commemorate that, each day in November, the Culture Vulture will look at a person or event connected to Robinson Center Music Hall.
Up first, the eponym for the building.
Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson was born in Lonoke in 1872. In 1894 Robinson was elected to the Arkansas General Assembly for one term. From 1903 until 1913, he served in the US House of Representatives as a Congressman from Arkansas’ then-Sixth District.
He chose not to seek another term in Congress and ran for Governor in 1912. On January 3, 1913, sitting US Senator Jeff Davis died in office. Robinson was sworn in as Governor on January 16, 1913. Twelve days later he was chosen by the Arkansas General Assembly to become the next US Senator. He became the final US Senator to be selected by a legislator instead of popular vote. At the time, Senate terms started in March, so Robinson served as governor until March 8, 1913.
He rose through the ranks of the Senate and eventually became the first person to hold the title of Senate Majority Leader. In 1928, he was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. Four years later, he rode with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to the inauguration ceremonies before FDR took the oath. He would be President Roosevelt’s go-to man on legislative issues.
Senator Robinson died in Washington D.C. on July 14, 1937. His wife was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. Following his demise, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.
The Senator was honored with a memorial service in the Senate chambers on Friday, July 17. President Roosevelt and the cabinet joined members of the senate on the floor in what was described as a state funeral without pomp. Mrs. Robinson sat with her brothers and two nephews as well as Bernard Baruch and Arkansas Power & Light’s Harvey Couch, who were Senator Robinson’s closest friends. Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the many crowded in the senate galleries observing the service. Following the service his body remained in the chambers until it was transferred to a train to make the journey to Little Rock.
The funeral train bore his body, his family, 50 senators and over twenty congressmen. It reached Little Rock around 8am on Sunday the 19th. From there, Senator Robinson’s body was taken to his house on Broadway Street until noon. It subsequently lay in state at the Arkansas State Capitol until being escorted by military to First Methodist Church.
As the funeral procession reached Roselawn Cemetery, thunder echoed. The skies which had alternated between sun and rain that day, returned to rain. A deluge greeted the end of the service and sent visitors hurrying for shelter at the end.
It was not until December 1937, that Senator Robinson’s name became attached to the municipal auditorium which Little Rock voters had approved in January 1937.