Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Dr. William Grant Still

Long known as the Dean of African American composers, Dr. William Grant Still was a legend in his own lifetime.

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 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.


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Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Lottie H. Shackelford

While this headline may say “Little Rock Look Back,” Lottie Shackelford is still very much focused on the present and the future!

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 three 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.

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 been the longest serving 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.


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Women’s History Month – Raye Montague

Last month, 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 UALR and also eStem Public Charter School.  She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013.


Women’s History Month – Dr. Joycelyn Elders

Being the second female and first African American female to serve as Surgeon General, was just another milestone in the career of Dr. Joycelyn Elders.

In 1960, she graduated from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Though not the first African American female to do so, she was very much in a minority for both her race and her gender.  In 1967, she would return to UAMS as a faculty member.

After two decades of service as a physician and educator, Governor Bill Clinton appointed her to lead the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987.  She was the first African American woman to lead that department.  She led that department until 1992.  At that point in time, President Bill Clinton tapped her to be Surgeon General.

Upon leaving the post of Surgeon General, she returned to UAMS as a professor. She is now a professor emeritus.  Dr. Elders is also in demand as a lecturer and panelist.

She has been inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.


Women’s History Month – Lottie Shackelford, first woman to serve as Little Rock mayor

Lottie at Civil RightsFirst woman mayor of Little Rock:  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.


Black History Month – Art Porter, Jr. and Robinson Center

bhm art jr.Like his father, Art Porter Jr. is recognized with a space named in his memory in the new Robinson Center.

Arthur Lee (Art) Porter Jr. was born in Little Rock on August 3, 1961. Porter began his music career under the tutelage of his father, legendary jazz musician, Arthur Porter, Sr. who surrounded him with everything musical. He performed proficiently on drums, saxophone and piano. He was classically trained but his performances ranged across jazz, rhythm and blues, funk, and ballads.

During high school, under the supervision of Sterling Ingram, private teacher and band director at Parkview High School, Art Jr. was selected to be a member of the Arkansas All-State Band for three consecutive years.  At age 16, he was awarded the “Most Talented Young Jazz Artist in America” by the National Association for Jazz Education.

During Porter’s youth, his playing while underage in venues where liquor was sold proved controversial. Bill Clinton, then attorney general, established a framework for the legislature that would allow minors to work in such venues with parental supervision. Act 321 known as The “Art Porter Bill” became Arkansas law.

Porter graduated from Northeastern University in Chicago, Illinois, in 1986 with a BA degree in music education and performance.

Art burst on the music scene with his debut album, Pocket City (1992), followed by Straight to the Point (1993). In 1994, his third album, Undercover, placed Porter solidly on the “wave” radio charts with R&B artists as well as “cool jazz” artists. During this same year, he performed at Carnegie Hall for the Polygram Anniversary Celebration. His final album, Lay Your Hands on Me (1996), contained the radio favorite “Lake Shore Drive.”

Porter traveled the world with performances but no matter where his music would carry him, he always returned to his beloved hometown of Little Rock. He conducted workshops for music students at his alma maters, Dunbar Magnet Junior High School and Parkview Arts and Science Magnet School. Porter died on November 23, 1996, in a boating accident in Thailand. He had just completed a performance at the Thailand International Golden Jubilee Jazz Festival commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign.  In 2013, he was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.


Black History Month – Art Porter Sr. and Robinson Center

bhm art srArthur Lee (Art) Porter Sr. was a pianist, composer, conductor, and music teacher. His musical interest spanned from jazz to classical and spirituals.  One of the new event spaces in the Robinson Conference Center is named in his memory.

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. The next year, he married Thelma Pauline Minton. Following his marriage, he pursued graduate study at the University of Illinois, University of Texas and Henderson State University.

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.