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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2015 In Memoriam – Milton Crenchaw

1515 Crenchaw

In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.

Milton Pitts Crenchaw, was one of the first in the country to be trained by the federal government as a civilian licensed pilot. While an instructor at the Tuskegee Institute, he trained hundreds of cadet pilots and started the aviation program at Philander Smith College.

Crenchaw graduated from  Dunbar High School and attended Dunbar Junior College before enrolling at the Tuskegee Institute in 1939.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, his focus shifted from living the life of a normal college student to flying in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), sponsored by the Army Air Corps, and becoming a flight instructor.

Early in his career, Crenchaw worked as a civilian pilot training officer contracted by the military. Crenshaw instructed scores of pilots and cadets, including Judge Robert Decatur, Charles Flowers, Lieutenant Colonel Charles (Chuck) Dryden, Earl V. Stallcups, and fellow Arkansan Woodrow Crockett.  Crenchaw returned to Little Rock and taught aviation at Philander Smith from 1947 to 1953. He was also employed by the Central Flying Service and worked as a crop-duster in the central Arkansas and Delta regions.

Then he served as a flight instructor at several airbases from 1953 until 1972.   In 1972, with over 10,000 hours on record logged in the air, Crenchaw was signed on as an equal employment opportunity officer with the Department of Defense and as a race relations officer at Fort Stewart in Georgia until 1983.

Crenchaw was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 1998. Nine years later, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  He was also honored by Governor Mike Beebe in 2007 and the City of Little Rock in 2012.   On March 29, 2007, Crenchaw, along with the other members of the Tuskegee Airmen, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in Washington DC.


Robinson Redux – February

grand opening adHere are some of the highlights from the annals of the Robinson Center Music Hall nee Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  This entry looks at bookings from Februarys in years ending with an 0 or 5.

The building was officially dedicated on February 16, 1940.  A few days earlier a children’s theatre troupe had entertained school kids with a performance in the music hall.  Also that month high school basketball continued in the exhibition hall.  The month had kicked off with a much more glamorous event as the Movie Ball took place in the exhibition hall.

The year 1945 featured a ecumenical Christian Youth Rally on February 4, a concert featuring Tito Guizar on February 7, the operetta Blossom Time on February 8 and the long-running comedy Life with Father on February 19.   In 1950, Robinson’s offerings ran from the Grand Ole Opry featuring Hank Williams (February 5), to Dick Contino (February 8) to the magician Blackstone (February 10 & 11) as well as the opera Il Trovatore (February 15) and a recital featuring Mrs. Rece Price (February 21).

By the mid 1950s, the touring business was changing.  The only notable booking at Robinson in February 1955 was on February 20 as it featured the Duke of Paducah and a little known singer from Mississippi named Elvis Presley.  Five years later, Jackie Wilson and Jesse Belvin headlined a concert on February 5, 1960. The Venable Quartet and several other gospel groups performed on February 12 and the Beaux Arts Bal de Tete took place on February 19.  In 1965, Donald Voorhees and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra were in concert on February 21.

February 1970 showed much more activity.  Husband and wife Phil Ford and Mimi Hines starred in the national tour of I Do! I Do! on February 6 & 7. That show had been a hit on Broadway in the 1966-1967 season. Another hit from that season, Cabaret, played on February 19 & 20 with Tandy Cronyn starring.  In between, contralto Bernadette Greevy presented a recital.

Musician Jerry Jeff Walker performed at Robinson on February 23, 1975.  Earlier that month (February 19), the national tour of Pippin stopped by with Barry Williams (aka Greg Brady) in the title role.  Five years later, Ballet Arkansas welcomed Cynthia Gregory and Patrick Bissell in a performance on February 7, 1980. Later that month Mason Williams and his Bluegrass Band performed with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra on February 23.  The next two nights, a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar took the stage.

David Copperfield kicked off February 1985 with two shows on the 1st.  The next day the musical The Cotton Patch Gospel was performed.  Musican Carman performed on February 25.  In February 1990, Peabo Bryson and jazz extraordinaire Billy Mitchell shared the stage on February 22.

In 1995, the focus was on music.  There was “An Evening with John Bayless” on February 7 as part of the Greater Little Rock Community Concert Association.  On February 11, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra presented an evening of music of Rodgers & Hammerstein.  A few days later on February 17, various musical groups presented an evening of gospel music. The next night, Gladys Knight shook the house in a concert.  The month ended on February 28 with Nancy Griffith and the Blue Moon Orchestra. A February 8 concert with Della Reese was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

Five years later, highlights included a tour of Camelot on February 15 – 18, and a staged concert version of the opera La Boheme presented by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  In 2005, Kenny Loggins performed with the Arkansas Symphony on the 11 & 12. The ASO also presented an all Tchaikovsky concert with Jon Kimura Parker on piano.  Earlier in the month, President George W. Bush hosted a town hall forum on Social Security at Robinson Center.

In 2010, the ASO Valentine Pops concert featured Christiane Noll and Doug LaBrecque.  From February 16-18 STOMP rang out throughout Robinson.  The month ended on a more quieter note as the ASO and Philippe Quint presented the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius.


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.


Spies and Pets Among Features at Clinton Presidential Center

Clinton LibraryToday is not Presidents’ Day. No such holiday exists within Federal or Arkansas governments.  However, a good way to celebrate the observation of George Washington’s Birthday (Federal holiday for today) would be to visit the Presidential Library of one of his successors – Bill Clinton.  Visiting that facility is also a good way to mark the Arkansas holiday of Daisy Gatson Bates Day since she and President Clinton were friends.

The Clinton Presidential Center features numerous permanent and temporary exhibits.  Two of the current temporary exhibits are:

Spies, Traitors, and Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America -Created by the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, Spies, Traitors & Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America dramatically illustrates the challenge of securing our nation without compromising the civil liberties upon which it was founded.
Through artifacts, multimedia elements, and interactive exhibits, visitors can uncover stories of espionage, treason, and deception in the United States from 1776 to today.
Visitors can discover little-known accounts of foreign agents, militias, and radicals, and learn how responses to domestic attacks have driven counterintelligence measures that continue to affect our everyday lives.

This exhibit is designed to be viewed by families and schools, although the content is most appropriate for children ages 11 and up.

Presidential Pets. Socks. Buddy. Barney. Bo. The Clinton Center will debut a new temporary display, “Presidential Pets,” on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. “Presidential Pets” is a tribute to the presidential pets that helped make the White House a home.
From snakes to chocolate Labs, these famous pets provide an enjoyable look at presidential history. The display will include items from President George W. Bush, President Clinton, President George Bush, President Ford, President Nixon, President Johnson, and more.

Both exhibits run through April 27, 2014.