Women Making History – Jimmie Lou Fisher

Image result for jimmie lou fisherJimmie Lou Fisher served as a Constitutional officer in Arkansas longer than any other woman in the state’s history (twenty-four years).  Her twenty-two years as Treasurer is also the longest any person has served in that post. (And unless the term limits rules for Constitutional officers are changed, it is a record that is likely to stand.)

Born in Delight, she grew up in Paragould and graduated from high school in Vilonia. (Her father was a coach and school administrator who moved the family around as he took new jobs.)  She attended what is now Arkansas State University.

Interested in politics from an early age, in 1970, she was elected Greene County Treasurer. She held that position until 1979 when she was appointed by Governor Bill Clinton to be the Auditor of Arkansas. (He had appointed longtime Auditor Jimmie “Red” Jones to be Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard.)

Gov. Clinton had hardly picked her from obscurity.  She had been active in his successful race for governor in 1978. Previously she was vice chair of the Democratic State Committee and a member of the Democratic National Committee from 1976 to 1978 and a member of the Credentials Committee of the National Convention in 1976.

Since Fisher had been appointed, she could not run to succeed herself.  When longtime Treasurer Nancy Hall announced she would not seek re-election, Fisher jumped into that race. She easily won the race and was re-elected each time until term limits took effect in 2002.

After announcing her retirement from politics (where she had been respected by both Democrats and Republicans for her handling of state finances), Fisher was pressed into service to be the Democratic Party standard bearer in the race for governor against incumbent Mike Huckabee.

Though not the first woman to seek a major party’s nomination for governor, she was the first to be a major party nominee.  She ran a close election, but was defeated by Huckabee.

In 2013, she moved back to Greene County to be closer to some family members there.

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Remembering Daisy Bates

Today is the Daisy Bates Holiday in the State of Arkansas.  So it is an appropriate day to pay tribute to Mrs. Bates, who played a leading role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957.

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates and her husband were important figures in the African American community in the capital city of Little Rock.  Realizing her intense involvement and dedication to education and school integration, Daisy was the chosen agent after nine black students were selected to attend and integrate a Little Rock High School.  Bates guided and advised the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, when they enrolled in 1957 at Little Rock Central High School. President Clinton presented the Little Rock Nine with the Congressional Gold Medal and spoke at the 40th anniversary of the desegregation while he was in office.

When Mrs. Bates died, a memorial service was held at Robinson Center on April 27, 2000.  Among the speakers were President Bill Clinton, Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, and Rev. Rufus K. Young, pastor of the Bethel AME Church.  Others in attendance included Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, Mayor Jim Dailey, Presidential diarist Janis Kearney, former senator and governor David Pryor, and five members of the Little Rock Nine:  Carlotta Walls Lanier, Ernest Green, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Jefferson Thomas, and Elizabeth Eckford.

It was during his remarks at the service that President Clinton announced he had asked that Bates’ south-central Little Rock home be designated as a national historic landmark.

Rock the Oscars 2019: A SOLDIER’S STORY

A SOLDIER’S STORY, Denzel Washington, 1984

A SOLDIER’S STORY, Denzel Washington, 1984

In September and October of 1983, Norman Jewison and the cast of A Soldier’s Story filmed the movie at various locations in Arkansas.  Little Rock’s Lamar Porter Field was the site for the baseball scenes.

Adolph Caesar would receive an Oscar nomination for his performance in this movie.  Howard Rollins had recently been an Oscar nominee for his performance in Ragtime.  Future Oscar winner Denzel Washington was also featured in the cast.

Based on Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize winning A Soldier’s Play, the movie was directed by Jewison from a script adapted by Fuller.  The film was nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Caesar in the Best Supporting Actor category and Fuller in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

While the movie was filming in Arkansas, Governor Bill Clinton visited the set.  He had also been instrumental in making the Arkansas National Guard and some of the military facilities in the state available.  In addition to filming at Lamar Porter, scenes were shot in Fort Smith and at Fort Chaffee.

Rock the Oscars 2019: Carol Channing

On January 31, 1921, future “Little Girl from Little Rock” and Oscar nominee Carol Channing was born. Alas it was in Seattle.

After gaining the notice of New York critics and audiences in the musical revue, Lend an Ear, Channing achieved Broadway stardom playing fictional Little Rock native Lorelei Lee (the creation of Anita Loos) in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  In this show, which opened in December 1949, she introduced the Leo Robin-Jule Styne songs “Little Girl from Little Rock” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

In 1964, she won the Actress in a Musical Tony for her second signature role playing the title character in Hello, Dolly!  Channing also earned a special Tony in 1968 for Dolly when it became the longest-running Broadway musical.

On November 15, 1966, Carol Channing opened a six day stint in HELLO, DOLLY! at Robinson Auditorium.  She would play 8 sold out shows over those six days.  She had just wrapped filming THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (for which she would receive an Oscar nomination). She had specifically requested that Little Rock be added to the tour.

While in Little Rock, Channing was entertained at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion and feted at parties.  She was made an honorary citizen of Little Rock, as well.  But she was here to perform. And perform she did. She was rarely known to miss a performance and always gave her utmost.  Bill Lewis, in his review in the ARKANSAS GAZETTE, stated “To hear Channing sing ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Is one of the great experiences of all musical theater to date…”

In 1993, she spent her birthday in Washington DC at a White House dinner for the National Governors’ Association.  This was the Clintons’ first official White House dinner after moving in to the residence eleven days prior.  President Bill Clinton led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to her.  She remarked to the President that she was Christian Scientist and didn’t celebrate birthdays, which meant she didn’t get any older.  He replied that it meant the night was her first birthday (it was her 72nd in actuality).

She died earlier this month just two weeks shy of her 98th birthday.

Rock the Oscars 2019: THE WAR ROOM

This Oscar-nominated 1993 American documentary film follows Bill Clinton’s campaign for President of the United States, during the 1992 presidential election.  At the start of the 1992 Democratic primaries, husband and wife filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus requested permission from the Campaign to film its progression. The Clinton Campaign agreed, and Pennebaker and Hegedus were allowed to film Communications Director George Stephanopoulos as well as Lead Strategist James Carville; they were given limited access to Bill Clinton.

At the start of filming, the film team was embedded with the Clinton Campaign in New Hampshire for that state’s Democratic primary. During the onset of the campaign, the film crew traveled around the state with the Clinton campaign.

After the surprise Clinton second place finish in the New Hampshire primary, the crew filmed mostly in Little Rock, home to the Clinton campaign’s national headquarters. As the film focused in on Carville and Stephanopoulos, the film crew saw no need to travel outside of Little Rock as both were present in the city for much if not all of the primary and general election campaigns.

Because of the time spent in Little Rock, numerous buildings and backgrounds familiar to the capital city residents appear throughout the film. Jason D. Williams’ song “Get Back to Little Rock” is featured in the film’s soundtrack.

Though Stephanopoulos and Carville were the film’s main figures, many other prominent figures in the campaign were featured, including Paul Begala, Dee Dee Myers, Mandy Grunwald, Bob Boorstin, Stan Greenberg, Mickey Kantor, Harold Ickes, and Bush deputy campaign manager Mary Matalin, who later married Carville.  Also featured in footage are rivals George H. W. Bush, Ross Perot and Jerry Brown.

Though the film did not win the Oscar for Feature Documentary, Pennebaker would receive an Honorary Oscar in 2013. (Another winner that night was Arkansan Hal Needham.)

Rock the Oscars 2019: Mikhail Baryshnikov

On July 24, 1983, Mikhail Baryshnikov danced on the stage of Robinson Center under the auspices of Ballet Arkansas.   Nearing the end of his dancing career with American Ballet Theatre, he was leading a summer tour of the Southeast and Midwest US.

In the early spring of 1983, Ballet Arkansas was contacted to see if they would be interested in having him perform in Little Rock.  (The $60,000 sponsorship was paid completely by the ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT.) The performance was announced in April with tickets going on sale shortly thereafter.

Following Baryshnikov’s performance, he and his fellow dancers attended a reception at the Old State House Museum which was hosted by Governor and Mrs. Bill Clinton.  Baryshnikov would later be welcomed by the Clintons to the White House when he received a 2000 Kennedy Center Honors.

He returned to Little Rock in the summer of 1985 for a program entitled “Baryshnikov & Co.” It featured fifteen American Ballet Theater (ABT) dancers along with artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov.

After dancing with the Mariinsky Ballet for several years, Baryshnikovdefected to Canada while the ballet was performing there in 1974. He later came to the US to dance with American Ballet Theatre and later New York City Ballet. He returned to ABT in 1980 to take on the role of Artistic Director and continue dancing.  It was in this capacity that he visited Little Rock.

He received a 1977 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the ballet-themed film The Turning Point.

 

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.