All posts by Scott

About Scott

A cultural thinker with a life long interest in the arts and humanities: theatre, music, architecture, photography, history, urban planning, etc.

Remembering Sen. Joseph Taylor Robinson

Eighty-one years ago today, on July 14, 1937, U.S. Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson died in his apartment in Washington D.C.

The Senator’s wife, Ewilda, was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. (She was informed of her husband’s death when her sister-in-law called to express condolences. No one had yet notified her of her husband’s demise.) Following the news, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.

As the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Robinson was usually President Franklin Roosevelt’s point person to shepherd legislation on Capitol Hill.  The Democrat’s 1928 Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Robinson was particularly close to FDR. He had successfully steered numerous pieces of New Deal legislation through Congress.  However, at the time of his death, the Senator was facing an uphill climb trying to build consensus on the President’s unpopular Court Packing scheme.

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.

A sealed mailer containing bound copy of remarks delivered at Sen. Robinson memorial. It bears the franking signature of Sen. Hattie Caraway.

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.

1,500 people packed the church a half hour before the service began. The sun shone through the windows onto the flag-draped coffin as Rev. H. Bascom Watts led the service. Among the pallbearers was former Vice President Charles G. Dawes. Governor Carl Bailey of Arkansas was joined by Governors Richard Leche of Louisiana and E.W. Marland of Oklahoma.

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.

Five months after her husband’s death, Mrs. Robinson participated in the groundbreaking of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  The groundbreaking ceremony was the first time it was announced that building would be named in his memory.   On a plaque inside that building today, a quote from President Roosevelt stands as a further testament of the importance of Senator Robinson to the US.  Taken from President Roosevelt’s remarks upon learning of the Senator’s death, the plaque reads, in part, “A pillar of strength is gone.”

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A Bastille Day look at Benard de La Harpe

Today is Bastille Day, or as they say in France, la Fête nationale.  It commemorates both the 1789 storming of the Bastille as well as the 1790 Fête de la Fédération.   

At the time both events occurred, the land today known as Little Rock, like the rest of the Louisiana Purchase, was under Spanish control. (A fact overlooked in the operetta The New Moon which is set in New Orleans during the French Revolution.)

However, since this area was “owned” by the French from 1699 to 1762 and again from 1800 to 1804, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the French heritage of the area on this day.

Even though Arkansas was explored by the French in 1722, no official settlement of the area now known as Little Rock took place until 1812.  There was no permanent settlement until 1820 (though by 1818 settlement was eminent as evidenced by the Quapaw Treaty).

Jean-Baptiste Benard de La Harpe was the lead French explorer who first came to Little Rock in 1722.

From 1718 through 1723, he spent time exploring various areas of the southern sections of North America.  His 1722 trip up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers was at least his third such expedition along a river in the area.  From 1718 to 1719, he explored part of what is now Oklahoma up from the Red River.  Next, he explored part of what is now the eastern section of Texas.

After a trip back to France in 1720, he came back to the New World in 1721.  After his February to May 1722 trip up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers, he then went to transfer Pensacola to the Spanish on behalf of the French. In 1723 he went back to France and remained there until his 1765 death.

2nd Friday (the 13th) Art Night

For those who do not have paraskevidekatriaphobia, tonight is a good night to stop by several downtown museums and galleries for 2nd Friday Art Night.

It runs from 5pm to 8pm (though times at some individual locations may vary slightly).

Among the locations and their offerings are:

CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies (401 President Clinton Avenue) –

A Matter of Mind and Heart: Portraits of Japanese American Identity holds up a mirror to Arkansas and U.S. culture and asks what it means to be an American today. Displaying portraits created by Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated in Arkansas during World War II, this exhibition invites visitors to reflect on American identity and challenge widely held assumptions about living in a diverse society.

A Legacy of Brewers  – Incorporating paintings from both private and public collections, this exhibition of paintings by Nicholas, Adrian, and Edwin Brewer includes portraits and landscapes featuring people and places in Arkansas, Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Texas going back to the early 1900s.

Historic Arkansas Museum (200 E Third Street) – Justin Bryant: That Survival Apparatus.  The exhibit will contain pieces from Justin Bryant’s most recent body of work, which was made in response to Maya Angelou’s poem “Mask.” His drawings and paintings show the bottom half of black faces, images pulled from documentary and commercial photographs of famous individuals and civil rights leaders. Each mouth and chin is carefully rendered, while the eyes and other features are left blank.

Old State House Museum (300 W Markham Street) – Erin Enderlin in Concert.  Beginning at 5:30 p.m., Enderlin will perform on the second floor of the museum. Recently named to the CMT Next Women of Country Class of 2018, Enderlin is an Arkansas native and award-winning singer/songwriter currently based in Nashville, Tenn.

Christ Episcopal Church (500 Scott Street) – a selection of small works including paintings and mixed media by a variety of artists from the Little Rock area.

Matt McLeod Fine Art (108 E Sixth Street) – Arkansas League of Artists 2018 Members Show and Sale.

Other participating sites include Nexus Coffee and Creative (301 President Clinton Avenue); The Art Group Gallery in the Marriott Little Rock (3 Statehouse Plaza), Bella Vita (523 S Louisiana), and Gallery 221 (221 W Second Street).

 

The late Bob Dorough, Arkansan and musical genius, named a 2019 NEA Jazz Master

Earlier this week, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the 2019 Jazz Masters.  Among them was the late Bob Dorough, who died on April 23 of this year.  The other three recipients are big band leader Maria Schneider, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, and writer Stanley Crouch.

Dorough’s career spanned more than 70 years in jazz as a singer, pianist, composer, and arranger. His distinctive vocals, clever lyrics, and strong melodies were well-known in the jazz world even before his compositions and vocals for the animation series “Schoolhouse Rock!.”

Born in Arkansas and raised in Texas, hepivoted toward jazz after hearing Benny Goodman and Harry James recordings. During a three-year-stint in the U.S. Army from 1943-45, he worked as an arranger and musician in a Special Services band, then earned a bachelor’s degree in composition at North Texas State Teachers College (now known as the University of North Texas) in 1949.

Dorough relocated to New York City to continue his studies at Columbia University and immersed himself in the vibrant local jazz scene.  After spending six months working at the famed Mars Club in Paris, France, he returned to the U.S. and settled in Los Angeles, performing as pianist-vocalist in clubs and as supporting act between sets for comedian Lenny Bruce. Dorough’s first album, Devil May Care, was released in 1956.

In 1962, Dorough was working on the East Coast when he received a call from Miles Davis who he had met several years before in Los Angeles, asking him to write a Christmas song for him to record. Dorough composed “Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)” and sang it with Davis as well as another track, “Nothing Like You,” used as the closing track of Davis’ album Sorcerer in 1967.

In 1972, Dorough was hired by a New York advertising firm to set the multiplication tables to music to make them easier to learn. It was decided that the songs would make good animation, and Tom Yohe put artwork with the music to create Schoolhouse Rock! Dorough became the musical director of the television series, enlisting other well-known jazz musicians to help write and perform the songs. The animated educational series became a staple of the ABC network’s children’s programming for more than two decades.

In 1998, he was inducted into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame.  The Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre has performed the stage adaptation of “School House Rock Live!” (which was created by Arkansan and AAC alum Scott Ferguson and performed all over the country).

On April 15, 2019, the NEA will host a free concert celebrating the Jazz Masters at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Beginning in 1982, NEA has bestowed the Jazz Master honor on more than 150 people connected to the jazz genre, including Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Dianne Reeves and George Wein. Individuals first are nominated by the public, with an NEA-convened panel assessing the nominations before the National Council on the Arts reviews the recommendations and forwards them along to the NEA chairman, who makes the final decision.

Todd Herman departs Arkansas Arts Center

On Wednesday, July 11, 2018, Dr. Todd Herman, announced to Arkansas Arts Center staff that he will be leaving to take a position in North Carolina.  His last day at Little Rock’s art museum will be August 10.

Formal announcement of the new position is expected to be made on Thursday, but local media broke the story on Wednesday evening.

Herman, who joined the AAC in 2011, succeeded Nan Plummer as director, who served from 2002 to 2010. She was preceded by longtime director Townsend Wolfe, who led the AAC from 1968 to 2002. Between 1961 and 1968, the Arts Center had a revolving door of directors and acting directors including Muriel Christison (1961), Alan Symonds (1962-1964), William H. Turner (1964-1965), and Louis Ismay (1966-1968).  William Steadman (1958) and George Ware (1959-1960) lead the museum as it transitioned from the Museum of Fine Arts to the Arkansas Arts Center.  Irene Robinson was the director of the original Museum of Fine Arts from its opening in 1937 until her retirement in 1957.

T. Laine Harber, the Arts Center’s Chief Operations Officer/Chief Financial Officer will be Interim Director while a search is conducted for Herman’s replacement.

Work continues on the planning for the expansion and enhancement of the Arts Center which is currently slated to be completed in 2022.

Arkansas Rep reports much progress as they continues steps to their Next Stage

Two months since the Arkansas Repertory Theatre announced it would suspend productions due to significant cash flow issues, fiscal year end reports show significant progress being made in efforts to save the state’s largest nonprofit, professional theatre.

“As of June 30, The Rep is now current with all of its trade vendors and has secured operations and current staff through August 14,” said Ruth Shepherd, Rep board chair and interim leadership team member.

Reporting an emergency deficit of $750,000, The Rep Board of Directors decided earlier this year to suspend productions, resulting in the layoff of two-thirds of its administrative and artistic staff, as well as the cancellation of the final show of the theatre’s 2017-2018 season.

Now concentrating on rebounding from the current financial crisis, Rep leadership has pledged to reassess, refocus and revision a theatre which is professional, affordable and sustainable. The board of directors has appointed an interim leadership team consisting of Shepherd, fellow board member Bill Rector and Rep founding artistic director Cliff Baker.

Since “going dark” on April 24, The Rep has received almost 900 gifts totaling more than $422,000 and has secured two challenge grants – one from the John and Robyn Horn Foundation and another from the Windgate Charitable Foundation – valued collectively at $1,025,000.

The theatre has also finalized the sale of Peachtree Apartments, a 16-unit complex used for actor housing that has been among The Rep’s real estate holdings for more than 30 years. Proceeds from the sale will effectively cut The Rep’s property debt “almost in half,” according to Rep interim leadership team member Bill Rector, who negotiated the sale for The Rep with Rick Freeling of RPM Group representing buyers Mark Brown and Jill Judy. The sale closed on June 20.

Shepherd said a steering committee comprised of more than 60 community and business leaders are working with the Rep Board of Directors to develop a plan targeted for presentation in mid-August for the future of the 42-year-old beloved Arkansas cultural institution.

“Continuing campaign goals include creating board-directed funds such as operating and facilities reserve funds and a subscription escrow,” said Shepherd. “Such funds will enable The Rep to operate with a more fiscally sound business model moving forward. At this point, every gift to The Rep is about our future.”

“So, while the news is good, it is not yet great,” said Shepherd. “There is still a lot of hard work to be done, but we are certainly feeling more confident that with the continued support of our audiences and community, we will ultimately come out of this unfortunate situation with a stronger and more resilient theatre.”

Arkansas Repertory Theatre was founded in 1976 with a mission to produce a diverse body of work intended to illuminate the human condition through great storytelling and is the largest non-profit professional theatre company in the state. Having produced more than 350 shows (including 40 world premieres), the 377-seat theatre is located in downtown Little Rock where it serves as the anchor of the city’s Creative Corridor.

Another Judge Kavanaugh: William Marmaduke Kavanaugh

On March 3, 1866, William Marmaduke Kavanaugh was born in Alabama. He later moved with his family to Kentucky before coming to Little Rock as a newspaper reporter.

Kavanaugh served as editor and manager of the Arkansas Gazette before entering politics.  From 1896 until 1900, he served as Pulaski County Sheriff, which at the time also included the duties of tax collector.  From 1900 until 1904, he was County Judge of Pulaski County.  In that capacity he helped wrangle several cities, railroads and trolley lines to create a compromise which lead to the completion of the Third Street Viaduct which connected Little Rock with Pulaski Heights. It is still in use today.

After leaving his post as County Judge, he had a varied career in banking and business interests.

When Senator Jeff Davis died in early January 1913, he left the last few weeks of his term incomplete as well as the new term he was set to start in March 1913.  There was much interest in who would fill the remainder of Davis’ current term, because that person might be the frontrunner to also fill out the new term.  (This was at the time that the U.S. Senators were still selected by state legislatures.) Defeated Governor George Donaghey appointed J. N. Heiskell to fill out the term. But once the Arkansas General Assembly convened in mid-January, they overrode Donaghey’s appointment and replaced Heiskell with Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh served in the Senate from January 29, 1913 until March 3, 1913.  He was succeeded by Joseph T. Robinson who had only recently taken office as Governor.  Speculation was that Kavanaugh would not want the full six year term, so that he was acceptable choice to all of the politicians jockeying for the full appointment.  From 1912 until 1915, he was an Arkansas member of the Democratic National Committee.

Another interest of Kavanaugh’s was baseball.  He served as president of the Southern Association minor league starting in 1903.  The baseball field in Little Rock situated at West End Park was named Kavanaugh Field in his honor.  It stood until the 1930s when it was replaced by what is now known as Quigley Stadium.  (In 1927, Little Rock High School had opened on the land which had been West End Park.)

Kavanaugh died on February 2, 1915 at the age of 48.  He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.

Prospect Road was renamed Kavanaugh Boulevard in his memory.