Dr. William Grant Still, born on May 11, 1895 – A leading 20th Century American composer

Long known as the Dean of African American composers, Dr. William Grant Still was a legend in his own lifetime. Though not born in Little Rock, he spent much of his youth in the city.

Dr. Still, who wrote more than 150 compositions ranging from operas to arrangements of folk themes, is best known as a pioneer. He was the first African-American in the United States to have a symphonic composition performed by a major orchestra.

He was the first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the US; the first to conduct a major symphony in the south; first to conduct a white radio orchestra in New York City; first to have an opera produced by a major company. Dr. Still was also the first African-American to have an opera televised over a national network

Dr. Still was born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi to parents who were teachers and musicians. When Dr. Still was only a few months old, his father died and his mother took him to Little Rock. Inspired by RCA Red Seal operatic recordings, his musical education began with violin lessons.  He graduated from Gibbs High School in Little Rock.

After his studies at Wilberforce University and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, he played in orchestras and orchestrated for various employers including the great W. C. Handy. For several years he arranged and conducted the “Deep River Hour” over CBS and WOR.  He also played in the orchestra for the 1921 musical Shuffle Along, which was the first Broadway musical to feature an all African-American cast and writing team.

In the 1920’s, Still made his first appearances as a serious composer in New York. Several fellowships and commissions followed. In 1994, his “Festive Overture” captured the Jubilee prize of the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra. In 1953, he won a Freedoms Foundation Award for “To You, America!” which honored West Point’s Sesquicentennial Celebration. In 1961, he received honors for this orchestral work, “The Peaceful Land”. Dr. Still also received numerous honorary degrees from various colleges and universities, as well as various awards and a citation from Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers in 1972.

In 1939, Dr. Still married journalist and concert pianist Verna Avery, who became his principal collaborator. They remained together until Dr. Still’s death in 1978.  In a proclamation marking the centennial of Dr. Still’s birth, President Bill Clinton praised the composer for creating “works of such beauty and passion that they pierced the artificial barriers of race, nationality and time.”

In 1995, Dr. Still was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  In 2016, the ballroom at Robinson Center was named in his honor. In 2018, Opera in the Rock performed Still’s opera Troubled Island.

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Happy Birthday to Lottie Shackelford, who served as Little Rock’s 68th mayor

On April 30, 1941, future Little Rock Mayor Lottie Shackelford was born. Throughout her career in public service she has been a trailblazer.

Active in community activities and politics, she ran for the City Board in 1974 and lost.  But she was appointed to the Little Rock City Board in September 1978 to fill a vacancy.

This made her the first African American woman to serve on he City Board, and indeed on any governing board for the City (during Reconstruction, there were at least six African Americans on the City Council, but they were all men.) She was subsequently elected to a full-term on the City Board in 1980 winning 55% of the vote over three male candidates.

She was subsequently re-elected in 1984 (unopposed) and in 1988 (with 60% of the vote).

In January 1987, Shackelford became the first female mayor of Little Rock when she was chosen by her colleagues on the City Board to serve in that position. She was Mayor until December 1988.  During that time, Mayor Shackelford invited the Little Rock Nine back to the City to be recognized for the 30th anniversary of their integration of Central High School.

From 1982 until 1992, she served as Executive Director of the Arkansas Regional Minority Purchasing Council.  She left that position to serve as Deputy Campaign Manager of Clinton for President.  She subsequently served on the Clinton/Gore transition team. She later served on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation from 1993 to 2003. She was the first African American to be in that position.

A graduate of Philander Smith College, she has also studied at the Arkansas Institute of Politics at Hendrix College and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Mayor Shackelford has also served on numerous boards including the Little Rock Airport Commission, Philander Smith College, Chapman Funds (Maryland) and Medicis Pharmaceutical Corporation (Arizona).  She has the longest tenure of any serving as Vice-Chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Mayor Shackelford was in the first class of inductees for the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  In 2015, she was inducted into the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.

Women Making History: Dr. Raye Montague

In February 2017, Raye J. Montague, RPE was recognized on “Good Morning America” for her work as a pioneering scientist. She was not only the first woman to design a U.S. Naval ship using a computer, or the first African American to do so, she was the first PERSON to do so.

She began a career in Washington, DC with the United States Navy in 1956 and retired in 1990 after serving in numerous leadership roles during her tenure of thirty-three and one-half years. Her work designing the FFG-7 Class in the early 1970s revolutionized naval ship design.  She also served as the first female Program Manager of Ships in the US Navy and was the first female professional engineer to receive the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Achievement Award.

Throughout her career she received many honors, and was often the first woman of any race to achieve statuses in the engineering profession.

In 2006, she returned to Arkansas.  She is involved with numerous civic activities including mentoring students in the sciences at UA Little Rock and also eStem Public Charter School.  She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013.

Dr. Montague died in October 2018. She will posthumously receive the Fribourgh Award from UA Little Rock later in 2019.  In her honor, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. declared today (March 28, 2019) as Dr. Raye Jean Montague Day.

Women Making History – Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton

Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton made history as the first African American student to attend each high school year at and graduate from Little Rock Central High School.  But her impact on history exceeds that and extends into classrooms throughout Arkansas.

After a career which took her from elementary classrooms to corporate boardrooms, Dr. Hampton returned to Little Rock in 1996 to become the President of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.  In that capacity, she oversaw many opportunities to broaden the ways the arts and humanities were used in classrooms and outside of classrooms.  Dr. Hampton led the WRF until her retirement in 2006.  Through her vision and leadership, many tens of thousands of dollars of support went to cultural institutions and organizations during her decade at the helm.

In the mid-2000s, following the unexpected death of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s executive director, Dr. Hampton served as acting executive director of the ASO while a national search could be conducted.  She had long been a supporter of the ASO and other cultural institutions as a patron.

During the Central High Integration 60th Anniversary, Dr. Hampton served as emcee of the Commemoration Ceremony.  A few months later, she received one of the LRCH Tiger Foundation’s first Award of Excellence. She has also been honored by inclusion in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail and the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

She continues to be involved with Little Rock’s cultural life through her involvement in the Mount Holly Cemetery Association. She is a tireless advocate for this living museum of Little Rock’s past.

Last year, she was was interviewed by The HistoryMakers.  Recently, she was featured at Robinson Center when the public radio program “The Moth” recorded a show there.  L

 

Women Making History – Lottie Shackelford

Lottie Shackelford served as mayor of Little Rock from January 1987 until December 1988. She was Little Rock’s 68th mayor and the first woman to serve in that capacity.

She was first appointed to the Little Rock Board of Directors in September 1978 to fill an unexpired term.  She later was elected in her own right and served until December 1992.  She was the first African American woman to ever serve on a governing body for the City of Little Rock.

She later served two terms on the Little Rock Airport Commission.  She also served as Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1989 until 2014. She is the longest serving vice chair of the party.  She has been a delegate to every Democratic National Convention since 1980.

In recognition of all of her achievements, she has been included in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail, the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, and the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame.

Juror for 61st Arkansas Arts Center Delta Show announced; Deadline to apply is February 13

Image result for kevin cole artistAtlanta-based artist Kevin Cole will serve as guest juror for the 61st Annual Delta Exhibition, on view May 3 through June 30 at the Arkansas Arts Center. The deadline for artists to submit work to be considered for the exhibition is February 13, 2019.

Kevin Cole is a contemporary artist best known for sculptural works, paintings, and intentional use of color. An Arkansas native, Cole’s artwork has been featured in more than 475 national and international exhibitions, including the 42nd Annual Delta Exhibition (1999) at the Arkansas Arts Center.

His work can be found in notable private and public collections around the country. Among his public commissions are a fifteen-story mural commissioned by the Coca-Cola Company for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta and a twenty-foot high by fifty-five feet long sculpture commission at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta. His recent sculpture, When My Scars are my Testimony, is featured in the 2019 Atlanta Biennial at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

Cole has been a member of AfriCOBRA since 2003 and was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2018.

A Celebration of Art Porter Sr. tonight at the Ron Robinson Theater

Arthur Lee (Art) Porter Sr. was a pianist, composer, conductor, and music teacher. His musical interest spanned from jazz to classical and spirituals.

Tonight at the CALS Ron Robinson Theatre, Arkansas Sounds is hosting a special presentation of rare video and audio clips and photographs, as well as a panel discussion celebrating the continued legacy and eighty-fifth birthday of Arkansas pianist, composer, conductor, and music teacher Art Porter Sr. This event is co-sponsored by AETN.

Admission is free, but reservations are suggested. They can be made here.

Born on February 8, 1934 in Little Rock, he began his music education at home. He played in church at age eight; played his first recital at twelve; and, by fourteen, hosted a half-hour classical music radio program on KLRA-AM. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Arkansas AM&N College (now UAPB) in May 1954.

He began his teaching career at Mississippi Valley State University in 1954.  When he was drafted into the Army, his musical talents were responsible for him being assigned as a chaplain’s assistant in New York.  In the late 1950s he returned to Little Rock and taught at Horace Mann High School, Parkview High School and Philander Smith College.

He also started playing piano jazz in the evenings. This led to the creation of the Art Porter Trio, which became THE music group for events.  Many musicians who came to Arkansas to perform in Little Rock or Hot Springs would often stop by and join in with Porter as he played.  From 1971 to 1981 he hosted The Minor Key musical showcase on AETN.  His Porterhouse Cuts program was shown in 13 states.

Often encouraged to tour, he instead chose to stay based in Arkansas.  He did, from time time, perform at jazz or music festivals.   He also performed classical piano with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, founded the Art Porter Singers, and created a music group featuring his four oldest children.  Though Porter received many honors and awards, he found particular satisfaction in the “Art Porter Bill” enacted by the state legislature, which allowed minors to perform in clubs while under adult supervision. Porter’s children thus were able to perform with him throughout the state. Governor Bill Clinton, at the time a huge fan and friend of Porter, often joined Porter’s group on his saxophone.

In January 1993, Porter and his son Art Porter, Jr., performed at festivities in Washington DC for the Presidential Inauguration of his friend Bill Clinton.  In July 1993, he died of lung cancer.  Today his legacy lives on in the Art Porter Music Education Fund as well as in the lives of the many musicians and fans he touched.  He was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1994.