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.

Little Rock Look Back: Thanksgiving Day Football in 1918

100 years ago, the Little Rock High School Tigers football game on Thanksgiving was against a group of soldiers from Camp Pike.

The game took place on Thursday, November 28, 1918. The Great War had ended a little over a fortnight earlier, but the game had been scheduled while hostilities were still going.

The Tigers, who had never lost on Thanksgiving Day after starting a tradition of playing on the day in 1914, were for the first time the underdogs. The soldiers of the 13th Training Battalion were slightly older and much bigger – an average of 20 pounds bigger per player.

Going into the game, the Little Rock High School team was down a key player. Julian Adams was out with wrenched knee.  Another player John Ward was also absent (though the newspaper accounts do not indicate why).

Coach George H. Wittenberg was missing along the sidelines due to illness. He was not the first coach to be absent that season.  The regular coach, Earl Quigley, had been drafted and was stationed in South Carolina during the season.  Wittenberg, was a faculty member at the time. He had lettered for the football team when he had been a student a decade or so earlier. Later, as an architect, he would be one of the designers of the new Little Rock High School, now Central High School.

The game took place at Kavanaugh Field (a baseball field also used for football).  Though it is now the site of current Central’s storied Quigley Stadium, this was nearly a decade before the high school moved from Scott Street to Park Street.

The Camp Pike gridiron team dominated the game before a crowd of 1,000. The soldiers made three touchdowns in the first quarter, two in the second, one in the third, and one more to cap off the game in the fourth.

The closest the Tiger eleven got to scoring was in the second quarter when Hershell Riffel caught the ball at the 12 yard line and team captain and quarterback Alvin Bell advanced another six yards.  Camp Pike held them there.  Just before the game ended, Bell injured his knee and was taken out of the game.

Also that day, the University of Arkansas beat Kendall College (now the University of Tulsa) in Tulsa by a score of 23 to 6, West Tennessee Normal (now University of Memphis) defeated the Jonesboro Aggies (now Arkansas State Red Wolves) by a score of 37 to 0, and Hendrix College bested Henderson-Brown (now Henderson State University) by a score of 9 to 7.

Thanks to Brian Cox’s book Tiger Pride: 100 Years of Little Rock Central High Football for filling in some of the players names which were omitted in the newspaper coverage.

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.

Black History Month – Lawrence Hamilton and Robinson Center

LawrenceHamiltonAnother notable former Little Rock performing artist who is memorialized at Robinson Center is Lawrence Hamilton.

The son of the Dr. Oscar and Mae Dell Hamilton, he was born in the small southwest Arkansas town of Foreman With an interest in music stemming from childhood, Hamilton earned a music scholarship to attend Henderson State University in Arkadelphia where he studied piano and voice He graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in music education.

From Arkansas, Hamilton traveled to Florida to work as a performer at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida where he would meet talent manager, Tommy Molinaro. This fateful meeting would prove to be a life-changing encounter, as Molinaro would invite Hamilton to come to New York to audition for the famed actor/director Geoffrey Holder. This marked the beginning of Hamilton’s bold and creative career in the performing arts, leading to performances on Broadway and on tours in Sophisticated Ladies, The Wiz,Uptown – Its Hot, Porgy and Bess, Big River, Play On!, and Jelly’s Last Jam among others. Perhaps his crowning achievement was starring in Ragtime.

Hamilton has been a member of the Southern Ballet Theater, Brooklyn Dance Theater, Ballet Tap USA, and the Arkansas Opera Theater He has performed in concert with the legendary Lena Horne at the White House for President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, and at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II. Hamilton’s career also led to a stint as musical director for the renowned opera legend Jessye Norman, as well as vocal coach/arranger for the pop group New Kids on the Block

Upon his return to Arkansas, Hamilton served for several years as director of choral music at Philander Smith College. He also appeared in several plays at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and made numerous appearances on the stage of Robinson Center with the Arkansas Symphony and other groups.  In addition, he performed at countless concerts, benefits and galas throughout Arkansas.  In 2003, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  In 2008, he was appointed to the Little Rock Mayor’s Task Force on Tourism.

Hamilton died in New York in April 2014 due to complications from surgery.  Just weeks prior to the surgery, he had appeared in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson in Cape Fear, North Carolina.  He had also starred in that play at Arkansas Rep a few years earlier.

RobinsoNovember: Art Porter Sr.

bhm art srAs part of the new Robinson Center, nine Little Rockians (Little Rockers?) have been enshrined by having spaces in the building named after them.  One of those is Art Porter Sr.

Arthur Lee (Art) Porter Sr. was a pianist, composer, conductor, and music teacher. His musical interest spanned from jazz to classical and spirituals.

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.

RobinsoNovember: Lawrence Hamilton

LawrenceHamiltonAnother notable former Little Rock performing artist who is memorialized at Robinson Center is Lawrence Hamilton.

The son of the Dr. Oscar and Mae Dell Hamilton, he was born in the small southwest Arkansas town of Foreman With an interest in music stemming from childhood, Hamilton earned a music scholarship to attend Henderson State University in Arkadelphia where he studied piano and voice He graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in music education.

From Arkansas, Hamilton traveled to Florida to work as a performer at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida where he would meet talent manager, Tommy Molinaro. This fateful meeting would prove to be a life-changing encounter, as Molinaro would invite Hamilton to come to New York to audition for the famed actor/director Geoffrey Holder. This marked the beginning of Hamilton’s bold and creative career in the performing arts, leading to performances on Broadway and on tours in Sophisticated Ladies, The Wiz,Uptown – Its Hot, Porgy and Bess, Big River, Play On!, and Jelly’s Last Jam among others. Perhaps his crowning achievement was starring in Ragtime.

Hamilton has been a member of the Southern Ballet Theater, Brooklyn Dance Theater, Ballet Tap USA, and the Arkansas Opera Theater He has performed in concert with the legendary Lena Horne at the White House for President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, and at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II. Hamilton’s career also led to a stint as musical director for the renowned opera legend Jessye Norman, as well as vocal coach/arranger for the pop group New Kids on the Block

Upon his return to Arkansas, Hamilton served for several years as director of choral music at Philander Smith College. He also appeared in several plays at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.  In addition, he performed at countless concerts, benefits and galas throughout Arkansas.  In 2003, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  In 2008, he was appointed to the Little Rock Mayor’s Task Force on Tourism.

Hamilton died in New York in April 2014 due to complications from surgery.  Just weeks prior to the surgery, he had appeared in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson in Cape Fear, North Carolina.  He had also starred in that play at Arkansas Rep a few years earlier.

LR Women’s History Month – Ruth May Wassell Gibb

Ruth-May-Wassell-GibbOn August 27, 1944, Ruth May Wassell shattered a bottle on the hull of a new ship and christened it the U.S.S. Little Rock.  Mrs. Wassell, whose husband was Little Rock alderman Sam Wassell, had been designated as the official sponsor for the City of Little Rock by Mayor Charles Moyer.

Ruth May Wassell was more than the wife of a local political leader.  The daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Wiley Singleton May, she moved from Gurdon to Little Rock with her family and graduated from Little Rock High School. She later graduated from Henderson-Brown College and received a law degree from the University of Arkansas.  In 1932, she was admitted to the Arkansas Bar and later was admitted to practice before the Arkansas Supreme Court, one of the first women to receive this designation.

Mrs. Wassell was active in business, serving as president of the Arkansas Lumber Company  and owner of a citrus farm in Texas.  She was also active in civic affairs through involvement with the Arkansas Democratic Women, Boys Club and Second Presbyterian Church.  From 1947 until 1951 she was First Lady of Little Rock when Sam Wassell was elected as Mayor.

Following the December 1954 death of Mayor Wassell, she subsequently married E. W. “Bud” Gibb.  She died in 1964.