Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Black History Month – Aretha Franklin and Robinson Center

wjc-arethaTwo days before the Clinton Presidential Center opened, at Robinson Center Music Hall, patrons were warmed by the musical talents of Aretha Franklin.

She shared the Robinson stage with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  The ASO brough Miss Franklin to town as part of the festivities surrounding the opening of the presidential library.  Long a favorite of the Clintons, Miss Franklin sang at his 1993 inaugural festivities the night before he took the oath of office.

Resplendent in a series of white dresses, Miss Franklin was in top form feeding off the love from the audience.  While backstage she may have been dealing with back and knee issues (which the Culture Vulture saw first hand), when she stepped on to the stage she was giving her all as she rolled through hit after hit from her starry career.  She sang, she played the piano, she entertained!

It was a sold out house and her voice and energy reached the last row of the balcony.

Born in Memphis, she moved to Detroit before age five and grew up singing at church.  After gaining some fame singing gospel songs, at 18 she switched to more secular music.  After initially singing for Columbia Records, she moved to Atlantic Records, later to Arista, and now has her own label.

Among her hits are “Respect,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Share Your love with Me,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Break It to Me Gently,” “Jump to It,” “Get It Right,” and “Freeway of Love.”

Franklin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979 and became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. NARAS awarded her a Grammy Legend Award in 1991, then the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994, the same year she was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994.  In 1999, she received the National Medal of Arts from Bill Clinton.  George W. Bush bestowed her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.  She has 17 Grammy Awards and 14 additional nominations.

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Congratulations to the Arkansas Arts Center on being re-accredited by the American Alliance of Museums

arkartsThe Arkansas Arts Center (AAC), the state’s leader in international, visual and performing arts, has again achieved accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums, the highest national recognition afforded the nation’s museums.

“Accredited museums are a community of institutions that have chosen to hold themselves publicly accountable to excellence,” said Laura L. Lott, Alliance president and CEO. “Accreditation is clearly a significant achievement, of which both the institutions and the communities they serve can be extremely proud.”

Alliance Accreditation brings national recognition to a museum for its commitment to excellence, accountability, high professional standards and continued institutional improvement. Developed and sustained by museum professionals for over 45 years, the Alliance’s museum accreditation program is the field’s primary vehicle for quality assurance, self-regulation and public accountability. It strengthens the museum profession by promoting practices that enable leaders to make informed decisions, allocate resources wisely, and remain financially and ethically accountable in order to provide the best possible service to the public.

“Earning accreditation is a milestone for any institution,” said Todd Herman, Executive Director at the AAC. “It’s a very detailed and in-depth process. I am proud of our entire staff and teams whose hard work led us to achieving reaccreditation.”

All museums must undergo a reaccreditation review at least every 10 years to maintain accredited status. Of the nation’s estimated 35,000 museums, more than 1000 are currently accredited. The AAC is one of only five accredited museums in Arkansas. Accreditation signifies excellence to the museum community, to governments, funders, outside agencies, and to the museum-going public.

Accreditation is a very rigorous process that examines all aspects of a museum’s operations. To earn accreditation, a museum first must conduct a year of self-study, and then undergo a site visit by a team of peer reviewers. AAM’s Accreditation Commission, an independent and autonomous body of museum professionals, considers the self-study and visiting committee report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation.

“We commend the Arts Center for expanding its outreach locally and statewide; this has clearly led to widespread community support and acclaim,” said Burt Logan, chair of the AAM Accreditation Commission and Executive Director and CEO of the Ohio History Commission. “Your accomplishments in fundraising, aligning resources and strengthening your relationship with the City of Little Rock demonstrate the Art Center’s leadership and positive impact on those it serves.”

The peer reviewers reported that management and storage of the AAC permanent collection was impeccable, and the significant gift of 290 drawings and watercolors by the American Modernist John Marin clearly demonstrated the institutional strength of the AAC and will serve as a further catalyst for a planned expansion. The gift makes the AAC the second largest holder of Marin works in the world.

The peer reviewers also found the AAC’s educational outreach programs to be impressive, with many constituents’ initial contact with the AAC through its award-winning Children’s Theatre, the Museum School or statewide travelling education programs, including traveling theatre and the Artmobile. These outreach programs see more than 300,000 visitors per year on average. Combined with the AAC’s more than 300,000 onsite visitors, and the result is an impressive annual attendance of more than 600,000. The peer reviewers stated that for an institution of this size, staffing and level of funding, these statistics were exemplary.

The AAM Accreditation Commission found that with the AAC Foundation’s impressive support, the consistent giving of the AAC Board of Trustees, the growing generosity of the City of Little Rock, and the expression of support recently made by the voters of Little Rock, the AAC appears poised to take the next important step in its institutional life.

“They also have put the museum back on solid footing with its peer institutions, and turned the AAC into a catalyst for community pride and economic redevelopment in downtown Little Rock. It is an impressive turnaround.”


Black History Month – Marian Anderson and Robinson Center

marian-anderson-9184422-1-402Marian Anderson was likely the first African American to perform on the stage of Robinson Auditorium shortly after it opened in 1940.

Born on February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, much of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with famous orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. The incident placed Anderson into the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR in protest and arranged for Anderson to perform an open-air concert on Easter Sunday in 1939.   She sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. Two of the pieces she sang in that recital were by Little Rock native Florence Price.

When Anderson performed at Robinson Auditorium in 1940, two pieces by Price were part of that concert as well.

She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, and the National Medal of Arts in 1986.  Two years before her 1993 death, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.


Black History Month – John Legend at Robinson Center

john-legendOn September 26, 2009, John Legend headlined a concert at Robinson Center.

Born in Ohio, he graduated from high school at age 16 ranked number two in the class.  He attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia during college, he started performing shows–eventually playing gigs up and down the eastern seaboard.  In 2001, he started performing with Kanye West.  His debut solo album was released in 2004 and was certified gold.  It won the 2006 Grammy for Best R&B album.

In addition to his own work, he has been a much-sought after collaborator.  Between both ventures, he continued to pick up accolades and release hit songs and albums.  At the time he visited Little Rock, he was promoting the album Evolver.

Since his time in Little Rock, he has toured extensively, released more albums, and continued to tour.  He won the Oscar for Best Song for “Glory” from Selma.  Tonight, the film La La Land in which he appears, is nominated for several Academy Awards.


Little Rock Look Back: And the Oscar goes to…”Nine from Little Rock”

AMPAS Nine from LROn April 5, 1965, the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject went to the film “Nine from Little Rock.”

Narrated by Jefferson Thomas, Charles Guggenheim’s documentary looks at the nine African-American students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Thomas, one of the students reflects on the state of race relations in the seven years that had elapsed (up to 1964).  The film also focuses on Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed.

Guggenheim both directed and co-wrote the film. The latter credit was shared with Shelby Storck, who also produced the film.   The film had been commissioned by George Stevens, Jr., for the United State Information Agency.

The Oscar that night was Guggenheim’s first of four.  His others would be for: 1968’s “Robert Kennedy Remembered” (Live Action Short), 1989’s “The Johnstown Flood” (Documentary Short) and 1994’s “A Time for Justice” (Documentary Short).  His son Davis Guggenheim won the Oscar for Documentary, Feature for An Inconvenient Truth.

The film was digitally restored by the Motion Picture Preservation Lab for the 50th anniversary of its win for Best Short Documentary at the 1965 Academy Awards.  It is available for purchase on DVD and can also be viewed in its entirety on YouTube


Black History Month – Count Basie and Robinson Center

count-basieWilliam James “Count” Basie performed at Robinson Center throughout his career.  His first appearance was in the early days of the building, when it was known as Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  His last appearance was in the early 1980s.

Born in New Jersey, he grew up playing the piano.  He arrived in Harlem in the early 1920s and took part in the rise of jazz during the 1920s.  He split the decade between touring and playing in a variety of Harlem night spots.  In 1929, he relocated to Kansas City and became the pianist for Bennie Moten.  It was during this time that he started arranging for bands as well.  By 1936, Basie had his own band – Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm.  He also started introducing blues music into his sets.

In 1937, he moved back to New York.  It would be his base throughout the 1940s. Though he also started appearing in films starting in 1942.  He also started incorporating bebop into his music.  After World War II, he disbanded his Big Band and reformed with an orchestra.  He would lead this group until the early 1980s.

While an outstanding musician, he was also notable for his role as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. He was constantly experimenting.  When two of his tenor saxophonists were complaining, he split them and placed them on opposites of the band creating dueling tenor saxes. He also started incorporating flutes into his orchestra, introducing them into more popular music.

As a musical personality, he joined the ranks of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong in helping to break the color barrier. He was featured in movies and TV at time that segregation was still well in practice.

Over his career, Count Basie received nine Grammy awards and has four recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame.  He was a 1981 Kennedy Center Honors recipient, and received the Grammy Trustees Award in 1981 and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in 2002.


Black History Month – Kristin Lewis & Christin-Marie Hill with Arkansas Symphony at Robinson Center

aso-mahler-soloTonight at Robinson Center, soprano Kristin Lewis and mezz-soprano Christin-Marie Hill will be soloists as the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra presents Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.  The concert will be repeated tomorrow.  Under the baton of Music Director Philip Mann, these two ladies and the ASO will be joined by combined choirs from UA Little Rock, UCA, Lyon College, Hendrix College and the Arkansas Chamber Singers.  Yesterday the two soloists hosted a Brown Bag Lunch at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center as a way for the community to meet them.

Kristin Lewis is a native of Little Rock.  A lyrico-spinto soprano lauded for her interpretations of Verdi heroines, she began her vocal studies at the University of Central Arkansas under the guidance of Dr. Martha Antolik. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree, she continued with her Master of Music studies at the University of Tennessee with Ms. Kay Paschal and Mr. Andrew Wentzel. Her postgraduate instruction was led by Dr. Jonathan Retzlaff. She currently lives in Vienna, Austria, and is a student of Carol Byers.

A recipient of many honors, Ms. Lewis was recently awarded the 2015 College of Arts and Sciences Divisional Achievement Award for the Visual and Performing Arts from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She was awarded the Orazio Tosi Prize 2012, given by the Club Lirica Parma, at the birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi. Ms. Lewis was named the 2010 recipient of the Artist of the Year Award by the Savonlinna Opera Festival. In addition, she was voted a 2010 recipient of the coveted “Oscars of the Opera” by the Foundation of Verona for the Arena. She is a two-time National Finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition. She has also been a finalist of the “XLVI Concours International de Chant de la Ville de Toulouse”, a winner of the “Internationalen Gesangswettbewerb Ferruccio Tagliavini” and a winner of the “Concorso Internazionale Di Musica Gian Battista Viotti”. Ms. Lewis also won the Opera Prize and the Audience Award in the “Concorso Internationale di Canto Debutto A Meran.  In 2015, she made her Carnegie Hall debut as a soloist with Mahler’s Second Symphony.

Christin-Marie Hill previously sang with the ASO in Verdi’s Messa de Requieum and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.  Career highlights  include singing with the Minnesota Opera, Oper Frankfurt, Carnegie Hall, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Kansas Opera Theater, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Tanglewood Festival, and as a soloist with the Mark Morris Dance Company.  An avid concert and oratorio soloist, Ms. Hill’s extensive list of concert credits include appearances with the Memphis Symphony, Richmond Symphony, Utah Festival Opera Orchestra, and Atlanta Symphony.

A native of Evanston, Illinois, her distinctions include a fellowship in voice from the University of Illinois as well as career grants from the San Francisco Opera, the Rislov Foundation, the Kaplan Foundation, and the 2005 Elardo International Opera Competition. Ms. Hill holds bachelor’s degrees in French literature and sociology, and a master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Illinois.