Tonight (5/11) – Arkansas Sounds presents Grammy winner Jim Lauderdale at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater

Tonight (May 11) at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater, Arkansas Sounds presents Jim Lauderdale

“He’s a man of great style, an exceptional songwriter and tremendous singer” – Elvis Costello

Jim Lauderdale is a two-time Grammy-winning Americana icon and A-list Nashville singer-songwriter whose unmistakable rhinestone-encrusted silhouette has been a symbol for creative integrity for thirty-one albums over decades of recording.

He’s written number-one songs for George Strait, Patty Loveless, George Jones, Mark Chesnutt, and the Dixie Chicks as well as recording albums with Elvis Costello, Dr. Ralph Stanley, the North Mississippi Allstars, Donna the Buffalo, Elvis Presley’s band, Buddy Miller, and longtime Grateful Dead collaborator Robert Hunter. His prolific streak of releases continues in 2019 with his new album From Another World.

This is a solo concert with no opening act.

Tickets are $20 for general admission seating. The doors open at 7:00 pm and the concert starts at 8:00 pm.

Presented by Arkansas Sounds. Sponsored by Friends of the Central Arkansas Library System (FOCAL), Acansa Arts Festival, FM 89.1 KUAR, Dr. Elizabeth Fletcher Dishongh Charitable Trust and David Austin at The Charlotte John Company.

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Rock the Grammys – Jimmy Driftwood

Image result for jimmy driftwoodThe 61st Grammy Awards are tonight.  Over the years, many Arkansans and those with Arkansas connections have been Grammy winners and nominees.

But the first Arkansan to win a Grammy took place at the second Grammy ceremony on November 29, 1959 – Jimmy Driftwood.

Born in Timbo as James Morris in 1907, he later studied what is now John Brown University before graduating with a teaching degree from what is now the University of Central Arkansas.

In his 20s, he alternated between teaching school and traveling the country as a drifter.  In 1936, he both got married and returned to Arkansas as well as wrote the song “The Battle of New Orleans” to help explain history to a class he was teaching.

By 1957, he had changed his name to Jimmy Driftwood, both publicly and legally.  That year, a Nashville, TN, song publisher learned of him and offered him his first record deal.  That first record did not sell particularly well.  But he did start getting notice.

Driftwood left Arkansas for Nashville and became popular by his appearances on programs including the Grand Ole Opry, Ozark Jubilee, and Louisiana Hayride. He was invited to sing for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev as an example of traditional American music during the leader’s 1959 state visit to the United States. He became a member of the Opry in the 1950s.

In 1959, he had six songs on the popular and country music charts including Johnny Horton’s recording of “The Battle of New Orleans.” It was that recording that was named “Song of the Year” by the Grammys. That award goes to the songwriter, which meant Driftwood took home the trophy.  He later won three other Grammys.

By the 1960s, he alternated his time between touring and spending more time in Northwest and North Central Arkansas.  In April 1963, he held the first Arkansas Folk Festival in Mountain View.  He later helped established the Ozark Folk Center, which is now part of the Arkansas State Park system. He was also active in defeating the plan to dam the Buffalo River and in efforts to establish the Buffalo National River and the preservation of the Blanchard Springs Caverns.

Due to his knowledge of folk music, Driftwood served on the Advisory Committee of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and worked with the National Geographic Society.

His final years were spent in Fayetteville. He died there of a heart attack in 1998.

Rock the Oscars: John Legend

john-legendOn September 26, 2009, future Oscar winner John Legend headlined a concert at Robinson Center.

Born in Ohio, he graduated from high school at age 16 ranked number two in the class.  He attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia during college, he started performing shows–eventually playing gigs up and down the eastern seaboard.  In 2001, he started performing with Kanye West.  His debut solo album was released in 2004 and was certified gold.  It won the 2006 Grammy for Best R&B album.

In addition to his own work, he has been a much-sought after collaborator.  Between both ventures, he continued to pick up accolades and release hit songs and albums.  At the time he visited Little Rock, he was promoting the album Evolver.

Since his time in Little Rock, he has toured extensively, released more albums, and continued to tour.  He won the Oscar for Best Song for “Glory” from Selma.  At last year’s Oscars, the film La La Land in which he appears, was nominated for several Academy Awards.  It won six but NOT Best Picture.

Black History Month – John Legend at Robinson Center

john-legendOn September 26, 2009, John Legend headlined a concert at Robinson Center.

Born in Ohio, he graduated from high school at age 16 ranked number two in the class.  He attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia during college, he started performing shows–eventually playing gigs up and down the eastern seaboard.  In 2001, he started performing with Kanye West.  His debut solo album was released in 2004 and was certified gold.  It won the 2006 Grammy for Best R&B album.

In addition to his own work, he has been a much-sought after collaborator.  Between both ventures, he continued to pick up accolades and release hit songs and albums.  At the time he visited Little Rock, he was promoting the album Evolver.

Since his time in Little Rock, he has toured extensively, released more albums, and continued to tour.  He won the Oscar for Best Song for “Glory” from Selma.  Tonight, the film La La Land in which he appears, is nominated for several Academy Awards.

Black History Month – Count Basie and Robinson Center

count-basieWilliam James “Count” Basie performed at Robinson Center throughout his career.  His first appearance was in the early days of the building, when it was known as Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  His last appearance was in the early 1980s.

Born in New Jersey, he grew up playing the piano.  He arrived in Harlem in the early 1920s and took part in the rise of jazz during the 1920s.  He split the decade between touring and playing in a variety of Harlem night spots.  In 1929, he relocated to Kansas City and became the pianist for Bennie Moten.  It was during this time that he started arranging for bands as well.  By 1936, Basie had his own band – Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm.  He also started introducing blues music into his sets.

In 1937, he moved back to New York.  It would be his base throughout the 1940s. Though he also started appearing in films starting in 1942.  He also started incorporating bebop into his music.  After World War II, he disbanded his Big Band and reformed with an orchestra.  He would lead this group until the early 1980s.

While an outstanding musician, he was also notable for his role as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. He was constantly experimenting.  When two of his tenor saxophonists were complaining, he split them and placed them on opposites of the band creating dueling tenor saxes. He also started incorporating flutes into his orchestra, introducing them into more popular music.

As a musical personality, he joined the ranks of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong in helping to break the color barrier. He was featured in movies and TV at time that segregation was still well in practice.

Over his career, Count Basie received nine Grammy awards and has four recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame.  He was a 1981 Kennedy Center Honors recipient, and received the Grammy Trustees Award in 1981 and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in 2002.

Back to School Cinema: TO SIR, WITH LOVE

tosirwithlove1967’s To Sir, With Love is a bit formulaic.  Following in the footsteps of Goodbye, Mr. Chips; The Corn Is Green; and Blackboard Jungle, it tells the tale of a teacher who seeks to educate “problem” students and show them a brighter future.

There are several reasons this movie succeeds.  One is Sidney Poitier. He is polished and understated exuding a genuine humanity without being beatifically noble.  The obvious wrinkle this movie presents to the formula is that the teacher is black, while the students are not mainly white.  While that is an added layer to the challenges “Sir” faces in teaching the students, neither the screenplay nor Poitier’s performance seek to make this a message movie.

The students also keep this movie from slipping into cliche.  They are a motley crew.  Filmed in the East End of London in 1966, these actors embody the time and era. These are not pristine, scrubbed faces – they are ruddy, with stringy hair. While they may be a bit older than their characters, it works in this movie.  These characters face hard lives and have had to grow up too quickly.  But, as Poitier’s character uncovers – they really are like schoolchildren who just want someone to care about them.

Several veteran mid-level British actors fill out the other adult roles.  Patricia Routledge makes her movie debut as one of Poitier’s colleagues.  For those who have only seen her as Hyacinth Bucket, her performance is a revelation here.

The cinematography, direction and music also aid the movie.  It has a dark, grimy look, more akin to a documentary. Director James Clavell working with cinematographer Paul Beeson and editor Peter Thornton, makes use of the realistic look while throwing in occasional quick cuts and varied angles. The iconic trip to the British Museum is accomplished by using only still photos over the score.  This was borne out of necessity because the museum would only allow still photos not filming.  But it is more powerful, and the photos are stunning.

The film was largely overlooked at awards time.  It was released the same year as Poitier’s In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.  He received no nomination that year at the Oscars — his three films probably all cancelled each other out.

The title song, which was sung by Lulu in the movie, was nominated for a Grammy.  Written by Mark London and Don Black, it has been covered by everyone from Al Green to Soul Asylum to 10,000 Maniacs with Michael Stipe.  Lulu’s version spent five weeks at Number 1 on the Billboard chart.