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.

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Grants for Rep, ASO, Oxford American announced by National Endowment for the Arts

nea-logo-960Three Little Rock based cultural institutions were among the eight Arkansas recipients of National Endowment for Arts grants recently announced.

These were Art Works and Challenge America grants. Art Works grants supports the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts and the strengthening of communities through the arts. Challenge America grants offer support primarily to small and mid-sized organizations for projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics or disability.

The Arkanas Repertory Theatre received $15,000 to support a production of An Iliad by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare.  The playwriting team has adapted Homer’s Trojan War epic into a compelling monologue that captures both the heroism and horror of warfare. A key theme is the personal cost of war. The theatre will continue and deepen its ongoing partnership with the Little Rock Air Force base and will engage with the service members and their families during the project. During the performance run, veterans returning from service overseas will share their personal stories as part of a post-performance community conversation. Activities will occur in the theater’s newly constructed second stage and center for community engagement on the Main Street Creative Corridor.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra received $10,000 to support performances and educational workshops that will culminate in the world premiere performance of a composition by D.J. Sparr, featuring guitarist Ted Ludwig.  The composition is inspired by Ludwig’s flight from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. In addition to performances, electric guitarists Ludwig and Sparr will lead workshops for student musicians and community members from central and southeastern Arkansas, including a high percentage of low-income residents.

The Oxford American received $20,000 to support the publication and promotion of the magazine.  Exploring the complexity and vitality of the American South, the magazine publishes poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and criticism by emerging and established authors. The magazine will be promoted through social media, the magazine’s website, a weekly e-newsletter, and events throughout the South.

In addition, TheatreSquared in Fayetteville received $25,000 for its Arkansas New Play Festival. This is presented in Fayetteville and Little Rock. The Little Rock performances are in conjunction with the Arkansas Rep.

Other Arkansas recipients were the Walton Arts Center, Sonny Boy Blues Society (for the King Biscuit Blues Festival), Ozarks Foothills Film Festival and John Brown University.