Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Clinton Center opens in 2004

wjc library openingIt has been thirteen years since the Clinton Presidential Center opened on a wet, cold Thursday.

The days leading up to it has been glorious.  And while the weather may have literally dampened spirits a bit, it was still an important day for Little Rock and Arkansas.

The events leading up to the opening included a concert by Aretha Franklin with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and an appearance by Senator John Glenn at the Museum of Discovery.  Events were hosted by the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Historic Arkansas Museum, and Old State House Museum.  There were scores of receptions and parties as Hollywood, New York, and DC descended on Little Rock.

November 18 dawned rainy and cool.  As the day continued on the precipitation continued while the temperature did not warm up.  Years of planning for a grand opening ceremony came down to this.  But at the appointed time, festivities began.

On the site of an abandoned warehouse district and unofficial dump which had previously been a train station, many leaders of the free world were gathered.  They rubbed shoulders with thousands of Arkansans from probably every county in the state.

It had been seven years and eleven days since Bill Clinton had announced the site of his presidential library.  It had been five years since artifacts and articles started arriving from Washington DC in Little Rock.  There had been lawsuits, threats of lawsuits, the threat of a Counter-Clinton Library, and countless meetings.

After speeches from Presidents Carter, Bush 41 and Bush 43, remarks from President Clinton and then-Senator Clinton (who was made even wetter by water pouring off an ill-placed umbrella), and even a musical performance by Bono and The Edge, Chelsea Clinton turned over the ceremonial key from the Clinton Foundation to the National Archives to officially open the Clinton Presidential Center.

In his capacity leading the Clinton Foundation, Skip Rutherford oversaw the planning for the Clinton Library and the grand opening festivities.  He, along with the foundation’s Executive Director Stephanie Streett, oversaw a phalanx of volunteers and staff to anticipate every detail.  The 1,000 days countdown sign that had been on the construction site (the brainchild of Tyler Denton) finally reached 0.

Isabelle Rodriguez, Shannon Butler, Mariah Hatta, Jordan Johnson, Lucas Hargraves, and Ben Beaumont — among others — had been putting in twelve plus hour days for months on end to get ready for the opening.  City Manager Bruce T. Moore led a team of City officials who had assisted on the planning and execution of the site preparation and making sure Little Rock was ready to welcome the world.  Moore and City Director Dean Kumpuris had been appointed by Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey to lead Little Rock’s efforts to land the library.  After Clinton’s announcement of the site, Dailey, Kumpuris and Moore continued to work together to ensure the library would be successful.

While the weather on November 18, 2004, may have been a disappointment, the people who were gathered knew they were witnesses to history.  And thirteen years later, is a day people still talk about.

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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.


Black History Month – Dave Chappelle at Robinson Center

davechappelleOn June 13, 2012, comedian Dave Chappelle appeared at Robinson Center as he was just starting to emerge from a several year self-imposed hiatus.  The night before the Little Rock stint, he had appeared in Memphis.

Lindsey Millar wrote a review of Chappelle’s show which is available here (and has been referenced elsewhere as others scratched their heads from his appearances at other places).  A YouTube video shows Chappelle reacting to the crowd at Robinson calling the Hogs.  He was amused/confused.

Born in Washington DC to two academics, he was raised in Maryland.  He graduated from Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where he studied theatre.  He then moved to New York City to pursue a career as a comedian.  He also started acting in movies and toured as an opening act for Aretha Franklin.  As his profile rose, he started making appearances in TV shows and movies in addition to performing stand up.

In 2003, he launched the “Chappelle’s Show” on Comedy Central.  After two successful seasons, he walked off the set during planning for a third season, which cost him a $50 million contract.

From 2006 to 2013, he made a few appearances in stand-up shows and gave a few interviews.  But most of the time he kept a low profile.  Since 2013, he has slowly started making more appearances. In 2014, he appeared on TV programs to promote a Radio City Music Hall appearance.  He also acted in the 2015 film Chi-Raq.  In November 2016, he hosted “Saturday Night Live.”

 


RobinsoNovember: Aretha Franklin with the ASO for the Clinton Library opening

wjc-arethaTwelve years ago today, the William J. Clinton Presidential Center officially opened.  While that day was cold and wet, two days earlier, inside 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.

Prior to her appearance, the ASO played a few selections including variations on “Hail to the Chief” and “America.”

 


Black History Month Spotlight: Lenny Williams



Lenny Williams possesses one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music. 

Leonard Charles “Lenny” Williams was born February 16, 1945 in Little Rock, Arkansas. At a young age he moved to Oakland, California.

His interest in music was initially fueled when he learned to play the trumpet in elementary school, and his skills as a vocalist were nurtured by singing in gospel choirs and groups around the Bay Area. Lenny participated in numerous talent contests and after winning several, he signed his first recording contract with Fantasy Records. He cut two singles for the label including “Lisa’s Gone” and “Feelin’ Blue.”

In 1972, Lenny joined the emerging funk band Tower of Power. A string of hits followed. During his time with Tower of Power the group also recorded three albums: Back To Oakland, Urban Renewal and the gold LP Tower Of Power. Lenny and Tower of Power toured throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

At the end of 1975, Lenny returned to his solo projects. Initially signing with Motown Records, he later moved to ABC Records in 1977 (later purchased by MCA Records). Over the next four years he scored ten chart hits, including “Shoo Doo FuFu Ooh,” “Choosing You,” “You Got Me Running,” “Love Hurt Me Love Healed Me,” and “Midnight Girl”. Lenny recorded four more albums from 1977 to 1980: Choosing You, his first gold LP; Spark Of Love; Love Current; and Let’s Do It Today.

Over the past few years, Lenny has continued his solo career, touring the US, Europe and South Africa. Lenny Williams’ style has transcended into the new millennium, influencing many of today’s newest R & B and Pop vocalists. He has recently shared stages with such notables as Aretha Franklin, The Whispers, Rick James, Boney James, Bobby Womack, Ohio Players, Al Green, Usher, K-Ci & JoJo, Alicia Keys, Anthony Hamilton and Frankie Beverly and Maze. Lenny has also expanded his multidimensional career to include acting, starring in several stages plays including “Love On Lay Away,” “What Men Don’t Tell” and “When A Woman’s Fed Up.”

He continues making music today. In 2012 he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  To learn more about Lenny Willams and other inductees, visit the exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. That museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.  


Little Rock Look Back: The Opening of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center

wjcopenrainArkansas Globecoming was the name given to the series of events in connection with the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center.  The week had been warm and sunny as Al Franken entertained at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Aretha Franklin performed with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Senator John Glenn held court at the Museum of Discovery.  By Wednesday, November 17, Little Rock was filled with stars from the political and entertainment fields.  As many dignitaries as were here, there were rumors of even more who were supposedly here.

On Wednesday night, things reached a fever pitch. A reception at the Arkansas Arts Center was literally shoulder to shoulder. A preview tour of the Clinton Presidential Center was only slightly less crowded (because the space was so much bigger). Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson and the Downtown Little Rock Partnership hosted a late night party at Nu.

As midnight approached, things slowed ever so slightly as people realized they had to be on site for the opening ceremony in a matter of hours.

Overnight a storm system came in. Not only did water fall, but so did the temperatures.

Those that did brave the weather had an unforgettable experience.  From performances by a rain-soaked Bono and The Edge to remarks by Presidents Carter, Bush 41, Bush 43 and Clinton, the event was memorable.  It was a Who’s Who of Washington, New York and Los Angeles.  All in Little Rock.

It took several hours for people to warm up and dry off after the event. But everyone agreed it was a memorable day for numerous reasons.