Remembering Aretha Franklin at Robinson Center with the ASO

On Tuesday, November 16, 2004, Aretha Franklin showed why she was an unparalleled entertainer.

She shared the Robinson stage with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  The ASO brought Miss Franklin to town as part of the festivities surrounding the opening of the presidential library.  Long a favorite of the Clintons, Miss Franklin sang at his 1993 inaugural festivities the night before he took the oath of office.

Resplendent in a series of white dresses, Miss Franklin was in top form feeding off the love from the audience.  While backstage she may have been dealing with back and knee issues (which I saw first hand), when she stepped on to the stage she was giving her all as she rolled through hit after hit from her starry career.  She sang, she played the piano, she entertained!

It was a sold out house and her voice and energy reached the last row of the balcony.

Prior to her appearance, the ASO played a few selections including variations on “Hail to the Chief” and “America.”

Earlier in the day, I had the chance to meet her.  The ASO had contacted me to see if I could pick up three copies of Bill Clinton’s autobiography for her to have him sign.  I was out and about on Clinton Library-related errands that day, so I happily obliged.  I picked up three copies and delivered them to Robinson Center.  Miss Franklin was on a break in between rehearsals and was about to be interviewed by Craig O’Neill for KTHV.  I only got to shake her hand and briefly say hello, but I could tell she was thrilled to receive the books.

I obviously did not ask to be reimbursed for the expense. The chance to spend a few seconds with her was payment enough.

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Little Rock Look Back: Sermons, TV Shows Dominate Final Day of 1959 Recall Campaign

A rainy Sunday afternoon did not stop STOP canvassers on May 24, 1959.

Sunday, May 24, 1959, was election eve for the Recall Campaign.  As such, the election figured into some Sunday morning sermons.  Reverend M. L. Moser Jr. spoke from the pulpit of his church and described the issue of segregation as Biblical. As many had before him, and would after him, he used the story of Noah’s three sons as a way to justify segregation of the races.

(Supposedly one of the sons was the father of the white race, one the father of the African American race, and one the father of the Asian race.  In this narrative, no explanation is given for other variations such as Native Americans and other indigenous people or persons from the sub-continent of India.  Also excluded is the likely race of everyone in the story – those who live in the Middle East.)

At Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Dean Charles A. Higgins prayed for the schools but did not tell his parishioners how to vote.  Rev. Aubrey G. Walton at First Methodist Church spoke about the schools needing to be free from politics and pressure groups.  (Though Rev. Walton did later appear that evening on a STOP sponsored TV show.)

Embattled School Board president Ed McKinley refused requests from the media and others to divulge his plans for the future of the Little Rock School District.  Earlier he had stated he had an idea on how the schools could be reopened and segregated, but still remain in compliance with the courts.  Across the river, segregationists were planning a rally in North Little Rock to head off any plans for future integration on the north side.  Congressman Alford had already agreed to speak at this rally.

In paid time on TV, Governor Faubus spoke at length in a criticism of the Arkansas Gazette. He called the fired teachers pawns in a larger game.  He noted in his remarks that he did not expect to sway any votes by this point.

Not to be outdone, STOP was on all three TV stations. Sometimes the program was aired on more than one station simultaneously.  In an appearance sponsored by STOP, William S. Mitchell noted that May 24 was coincidentally Children’s Day.  He noted that never before in Little Rock history had so many people volunteered for a cause as those who had worked on STOP and with STOP.  The Women’s Emergency Committee, PTA Council, labor unions, and numerous other organizations had come together to raise money, knock on doors, and otherwise get the word out.

Finally, it was all over but the voting.  Nineteen days of outrage, exasperation, and hyperbole was coming to an end.  When dawn broke, it would be election day.

Little Rock Look Back: National Balloon Race starts in Little Rock

On April 29, 1926, nine hot air balloons took off from Little Rock’s airport (which was actually just an airfield at the time) in a national race to win the Litchfield Trophy.  In addition to the trophy, the winner would be on the American team in an international balloon race in Belgium.

The New York Times coverage noted that the weather conditions were ideal as the balloons took off in five minute intervals between 5:00pm and 5:30pm.  The test balloon (akin to a pace car in a car race) was the Arkansas Gazette‘s Skylark.  It took off at 4:25 and headed in the direction of the northeast, which was the desired direction.

The nine balloons, in order of liftoff were: the US Army from Phillips Field in Maryland; the US Army from McCook Field in Ohio; the Goodyear Southern California; the Detroit; the Goodyear IV (whose pilot Ward T. Van Orman had won the 1924 and 1925 contests); US Army from Scott Field; a balloon piloted by a Danish pilot Svend A. U. Rasmussen; US Army balloon from Langley Field in Virginia; and the Akron National Aeronautic Association balloon.

The pilots carried provisions for 48 hours and were equipped for sea flying.  Each had a radio and loud speaker.  KTHS radio of Hot Springs (a forerunner to today’s KTHV TV station) was broadcasting the location of each balloon.  As they left the Arkansas radio station’s range, there was a network of other stations which would do the same.

It was expected that the race would last between eighteen and thirty-six hours.  The last balloon aloft was Van Orman for the third year.  He lasted approximately 31 hours and landed near Chesapeake Bay.

Though no headcount was given, the New York Times called the viewing audience “the largest crowd ever assembled in Little Rock.”

Many thanks to Brian Lang of the Arkansas Arts Center for giving me the tip on this.

Little Rock Look Back: Farewell to the Hotel Marion and the Grady Manning Hotel

Manning Implosion.JPGOn February 17, 1980, a cold and clear Sunday morning, over seven decades of Arkansas history came tumbling down as the Hotel Marion and Grady Manning Hotel were imploded.  Thousands of people watched from places in downtown Little Rock and along the Arkansas River.  Many more were able to watch from live coverage carried on KATV, KARK and KTHV.  Those that missed it were able to see the replays multiple times on the news.

It was the first large-scale implosion in Little Rock’s history.  (It was likely the first implosion, but there could have been a small one that is not known.)  The two hotels were torn down to make way for the construction of the Excelsior Hotel and the Statehouse Convention Center.

The Hotel Marion, named after the builder Herman Kahn for his wife, opened in 1907. For four years it was Arkansas’ tallest structure.  It was the largest and grandest hotel in the City. For decades it would be the host to many dignitaries, conventions, and gala celebrations.

The Grady Manning Hotel was originally known as the Hotel Ben McGhee when it opened in 1930.   Manning was the head of the company which owned both the Marion and Ben McGhee properties.  Upon his untimely death by drowning in September 1939, the property was subsequently renamed in his memory.

The Manning Hotel, though taller, was never as grand a hotel as the Marion.  It was more of a mid-range property in pricing.

By the 1970s, both hotels were suffering from neglect and disinterest.  Changes in the lodging industry combined with a decline in downtown Little Rock had left both facilities with little business.

When Little Rock civic and government leaders decided to construct a larger convention center downtown with an adjacent hotel, it was decided that neither of these facilities could be properly renovated to be part of the project.  Instead, the land on which they stood (and the space in between) would be prime for the new hotel and center.

So, on the cold Sunday morning, the explosives were detonated, and the buildings came down.   Sunday morning was chosen because it would have the least impact on traffic flows since it would cause numerous streets to be closed for safety reasons.  The blast was delayed due to a rumor that someone might be in one of the buildings.  After checking both sites and finding them empty, the charges were set off.

And the Marion and Grady Manning became as much a memory as the long gone people who had once populated them.

The University of Arkansas’ Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History has a video of the implosion.

Central to Creativity – Deborah Mathis

Deborah Mathis has deep Arkansas roots.  She grew up in Little Rock the daughter of Rev. Lloyd Myers, a Baptist minister, and Rachel A. Myers Jones, a teacher.

Her journalistic pursuits began as early as junior high school, when she became the first black editor of West Side Junior High’s school newspaper. In 1970 she became the first black and first female editor of Central High School’s Tiger student newspaper. From the early 70′s through the early 90′s, Mathis was busy establishing herself as a journalist and broadcaster. She served in various positions ” reporter, editor, columnist and anchor ” at statewide media outlets including the Arkansas DemocratArkansas Gazette, KARK-Channel 4, KTH V-Channel 11, and KATV-Channel 7 From Arkansas, Mathis career took her to briefly to Jackson, Mississippi before she landed in Washington, D.C., where she was a White House Correspondent for Gannett News Service from 1993-2000.

Since 1992, Mathis has been a syndicated columnist, appearing in more than 100 U.S. publications and periodicals. She is also a contributor to such outlets as USA Today and BlackAmericaWeb.com and a frequent commentator on political and public affairs talk shows such as PBS’s Frontline, CNNs Inside Politics NPR’s All Things Considered America’s Black Forum and Oprah, to name a few. She also field-produced, wrote and narrated two nationally aired documentaries: “Edukashun: The Cost of Failure” (1982) and “Return of the Little Rock Nine” (1987).

Mathis is the author of Yet A Stranger Why Black Americans Still Don’t Feel at Home, Sole Sisters: The Joy and Pains of Single Black Women and What God Can Do: How Faith Changes Lives for the Better.  She has also been an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism (Washington office).  In 2003, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Women’s History Month – Phyllis D. Brandon

While today, Phyllis D. Brandon is best known for being the first and longtime editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s High Profile section, she actually holds two historic firsts in Arkansas history.

In 1956, she became the first woman to report news on an Arkansas TV station when she appeared on KTHV.  Later, she was the first woman chosen to serve on the Pulaski County Election Commission.

 

A journalist since her junior high school days in Little Rock, Brandon has also been a witness to history.  As a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas, Brandon returned to her alma mater, Little Rock Central High, to cover the events in early September 1957 for the Arkansas Democrat.  Eleven years later, she was in Chicago for the contentious and violent 1968 Democratic National Convention as a delegate.

From 1957 until 1986, she alternated between careers in journalism and the business world, as well as being a stay-at-home mother.  Upon becoming founding editor of High Profile, she came into her own combining her nose for news and her life-long connections within the Little Rock community.  As a writer and photographer, she created art in her own right. A look through High Profile provides a rich historical snapshot of the changes in Little Rock and Arkansas in the latter part of the 20th Century and start of the 21st Century.

Little Rock Look Back: Central & Hall Football at 2-0

lrchs-lrhhsAfter two weeks of prep gridiron (that is high school football to those who don’t write like a 1950s inky wretch), Little Rock Central and Little Rock Hall are both posting records of 2 wins and 0 losses.  This feat has not been achieved in quite a while.

How long?  37 seasons!  It was 1979, the last time that the Tigers and Warriors were both out of the gate at 2-0.

1979

Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Bill Clinton was in his first term as Governor. First Lady Hillary Rodham was several months pregnant with Chelsea. Hall High and Razorback standout Webb Hubbell was Mayor of Little Rock.  The City’s population was in the 150,000s (it would be 159,151 after the 1980 census).  Little Rock had an area of approximately 80 square miles.  (Today it is approximately 200,000 citizens over 122 square miles.)

Lou Holtz was coaching the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Southwest Conference.  Harry Hall was in his first season as Commissioner of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.  Rex Nelson was a student at Ouachita.  Paul Eells was in his second year with KATV, while Dave Woodman was finishing his first decade at KARK.  Gary Hogan was anchoring sports for KTHV.  Hogs football games were broadcast on KAAY radio.  While Bob Buice and Jim Elder were ruling the airwaves at KARN, Craig O’Neill was dominating mornings at KLAZ.

Orville Henry, Jim Bailey, and Wadie Moore covered college and high school sports for the Arkansas Gazette.  The Arkansas Democrat had switched to morning delivery and hired John Robert Starr as editor.  Both papers carried ads for Kempners, Golds, M.M. Cohn, Skaggs Albertsons, Minute Man, Union National Bank, Commercial National Bank, Worthen National Bank, and First National Bank.

Metrocentre Mall existed with bricked over streets on Main and Capitol. The Grady Manning Hotel and Hotel Marion still stood (though in their twilight days before their February 1980 date with demolition.)

So a lot has changed since Central and Hall previously achieved this.  In the interval, Central has been 2-0 a dozen times and Hall has achieved that a brace. But the schools never managed it during the same season.  Three times the schools both managed 1-1 seasons and seven times they each started at 0-2.

The 1979 Warriors were helmed by C. W. Keopple, who would lead the team from the 1960s into the 1980s winning four conference/state titles. (When your conference is statewide, winning one got you the other.)  Bernie Cox was in his fifth season as the Tigers’ mentor, with two state championships already under his belt, five more would be in his future.

The teams stayed tied through the fourth week. But in the fifth week, while Central won, Hall lost to Parkview by a score of 7-0.  The following week, the Warriors rebounded, while the Tigers settled for a 0 to 0 tie with Ole Main.  Weeks seven through ten saw both teams notching another win each week.  This set up a Thanksgiving Day classic with the state’s top two teams facing off.  Central was slightly favored, but season records seldom carried any weight when the two cross-town rivals played on Thanksgiving afternoon.  In an upset, Hall bested Central by a score of 17 to 0.

From 1987 to 1990, the second game of the season was the Hall-Central matchup, which meant that it would have been impossible to both start with a 2-0 record.  This second week matchup was made necessary by the fact that not only could the two teams no longer face off on Thanksgiving after 1982, but the two schools were not in the same conference from 1983 through 2000. So the faceoff was early in the season, during the non-conference portion.

Due to subsequent restructurings by the Arkansas Activities Association, the two schools have not played a football game since 2005.  The bell from the “Battle of the Bell” which was supposed to replace the pageantry and intense rivalry of the Thanksgiving Day matchups, sat forlornly and largely forgotten in the trophy case at Central following the 2005 edition which Central won by a score of 24 to 7.  (That season Central started at 0-2 on the way to a 5-5 record and Hall started at 1-1 on the way to a 3-7 record.)  UPDATE: As noted in a comment on this piece, the Bell has now been refurbished and sits proudly at Quigley Stadium.  Thank you Belinda Stilwell for the information!

Who knows how the 2016 season will turn out for these two teams?  In the past 2-0 has led both to State Championships and to a 6-4 record.  But for two schools that have struggled in the past few seasons, to start with a 2-0 record is quite an accomplishment. For both to start with that record is remarkable.

 

While the blog hiatus and a restructuring continue, this was a bit of history that needed mentioning.