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.

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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.

18 Cultural Events of 2018 – White House Collection of American Crafts: 25th Anniversary Exhibit at the Clinton Center

PIERCED GEODE by Robyn Horn

The White House Collection of American Crafts was commissioned by First Lady Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton in 1993 as part of the “Year of American Craft: A Celebration of the Creative Work of the Hand.” The collection includes 73 works of glass, metal, ceramic, fiber, and wood, created by seventy-seven of America’s foremost artists. This 25th anniversary exhibit opened at the Clinton Presidential Center on September 17, 2018 and runs through March 31, 2019. (NOTE: During the government shutdown, the exhibits in the Clinton Center are closed, though the restaurant and museum store remain open.)

The Clintons thought of the White House as the American people’s house and a 200-year-old living museum of American art and history. As First Lady, Hillary Clinton promoted the arts and culture through many initiatives. One of those, The White House Collection of American Crafts, presented a wonderful opportunity to display contemporary American crafts in the formal public rooms of the White House.

The pieces within the collection illustrate the skill, imagination, and vitality
characteristic of craft in the 1990s. Using glass, wood, clay, fiber and metal, these
artisans reveal their ability to manipulate materials in inventive ways, expressing their
creative vision in objects of striking beauty. Despite the increasing emergence of
computer technology and industrial design at the time, the collection displays the
intimate and physical qualities of handmade objects.

The collection features work by 78 artists, ranging from established to emerging in
their mediums in the 1990s, including Dale Chihuly, Cliff Lee, Sam Maloof, and Joan
Mondale, among others. Six Arkansas artisans are part of the collection, including
Michael Haley and Susy Siegele; Robyn Horn; Leon Niehues and Sharon Niehues;
and Ed Pennebaker.

“Mrs. Clinton took her role as First Lady and temporary custodian of America’s house
very seriously,” said Stephanie S. Streett, executive director of the Clinton
Foundation. “She worked tirelessly to make the White House a showplace for the very
best of American artistry. With this exhibition, she hoped to elevate the role and
visibility of American Craft and its artisans. Mrs. Clinton has always believed in the
power of art to uplift and inspire, and I’m thrilled that visitors of all ages will have the
opportunity to see this beautiful collection in its entirety.”

Little Rock Look Back: The 2004 opening of the Clinton Presidential Center

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

The days leading up to it had 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 S. 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, Ben Beaumont, Denver Peacock — 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.

Among those present were Oscar winning actors Barbara Streisand, Robin Williams, and (of course) Arkansan Mary Steenburgen.  Future Oscar winner Morgan Freeman was also in attendance. Among the Oscar nominees who were present were Bono and The Edge (who performed at the ceremony) and Alfre Woodard.  It was the first public appearance by Senator John Kerry after his loss earlier in the month to President George W. Bush. Scores of Senators and members of Congress as well as countless Clinton Administration staffers were also in attendance.

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