90 years of Maya Angelou

Though she left this earth physically in 2014, Maya Angelou’s work and legacy continue on in the lives she touched and her writings.   Ninety years ago today, she was born in St. Louis.

On February 23, 1998, Maya Angelou appeared with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in a concert at Robinson Center.  The evening featured Dr. Angelou narrating Joseph Schwantner’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “New Morning for the World.”

Dr. Angelou, a former resident of Stamps, Arkansas, was not a stranger to Little Rock. She had appeared before at Wildwood Park and would later appear at the Clinton Presidential Center.

A former Poet Laureate of the United States and Tony nominated actor, she won a Grammy Award for her reading of “On the Pulse of the Morning” which had been written for the first inauguration of Bill Clinton as President of the United States.

A poet, author, educator, dancer, singer, actor, and activist, she wrote seven autobiographies. The most notable was arguably I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  Born in St. Louis, she spent part of her childhood in Arkansas before moving to California.  She led a peripatetic life both geographically and career-wise ending as a professor at Wake Forest and residing in North Carolina.  It was there that she died in May 2014.

One of the ways her work continues is through the Celebrate Maya project which is led by Janis Kearney.

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LR Women Making History – Janis Kearney

Janis Kearney is the only person to have held the title of U.S. Presidential Diarist. In 1995 she was appointed to that position by President Bill Clinton.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas, she was hired by the State of Arkansas as a program manager.  Nine years later, she became managing editor for the Arkansas State Press. She later purchased it from owner Daisy Bates.

In 1992, she took a leave from the paper to work on the Clinton presidential campaign.  Following the election, she worked in the transition office, the White House, and the U.S. Small Business Administration until her appointment as Presidential Diarist.

In 2001, she moved to Chicago and started working on a book, while also having fellowships at Harvard and DePaul.  In 2004, she founded Writing Our World Press and published her first book, Cotton Field of Dreams.  Her Clinton biography, Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton-From Hope to Harlem was published in 2006.  Since then she has also published a novel, a biography of Daisy Bates, and the second part of her memoirs.

She is also active in the Celebrate! Maya Project. This program seeks to honor and promote the inclusive literacy, creativity, and social consciousness of the life and work of artist and activist Maya Angelou.

Black History Month – Maya Angelou and Robinson Center

1414mayaOn February 23, 1998, Maya Angelou appeared with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in a concert at Robinson Center.  The evening featured Dr. Angelou narrating Joseph Schwantner’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “New Morning for the World.”

Dr. Angelou, a former resident of Stamps, Arkansas, was not a stranger to Little Rock. She had appeared before at Wildwood Park and would later appear at the Clinton Presidential Center.

A former Poet Laureate of the United States and Tony nominated actor, she won a Grammy Award for her reading of “On the Pulse of the Morning” which had been written for the first inauguration of Bill Clinton as President of the United States.

A poet, author, educator, dancer, singer, actor, and activist, she wrote seven autobiographies. The most notable was arguably I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  Born in St. Louis, she spent part of her childhood in Arkansas before moving to California.  She led a peripatetic life both geographically and career-wise ending as a professor at Wake Forest and residing in North Carolina.  It was there that she died in May 2014.

Laughter and Lyrics tonight featuring Phyllis Yvonne Stickney

mtcc nps stickneyThe Central High School National Historic Site and Mosaic Templars Cultural Center present a special program tonight.  The program is “Laughter & Lyrics” and stars acclaimed actress, comedienne and author Phyllis Yvonne Stickney.  The event starts at 6:30 pm tonight at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.

Drawing from the words of some of the leading African American female writers and thinkers in the second half of the 20th Century, Stickney has created an evening of thought provoking spoken word, social commentary, live music, and Conscious Comedy. This 90 minute theatrical presentation will draw on the body works of Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee and feature excerpts from Beah Richards’ “A Black Woman Speaks.”

Phyllis Yvonne Stickney is a world-class artist, producer, director, author, motivational speaker, clothing designer, community activist, businesswoman and surrogate mother to many. Ms. Stickney is best known and respected for her work in film, stage, television and comedy. Her portrayals range from articulate attorney to feisty comedy club diva, to a Jamaican mother of class. She is regarded as one of the most intelligently hilarious comic talents and was recognized by HBO in THE HISTORY OF BLACKS IN COMEDY. Her film credits include NEW JACK CITY, DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK, THE INKWELL, WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?, MALCOLM X, and the “ABC Afterschool Special,” DADDY’S GIRL. She made television history by portraying an Afrocentric character on THE COSBY SHOW spinoff, A DIFFERENT WORLD.

She also played Lena in Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning play A RAISIN IN THE SUN at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. The play was produced in January 2011 and received great reviews and exceeded box office expectations.

 

Arkansas at the Grammys – A Little Rock, a little country, a little soul, etc.

One of Johnny Cash's Grammy Awards

One of Johnny Cash’s Grammy Awards

The 57th annual Grammy Awards are tonight.  There are several nominees with Arkansas connections.

The documentary Glen Campbell, I’ll Be Me spawned nominations in three different categories.  The Band Perry is nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for their take on Campbell’s hit “Gentle on My Mind” from the film’s soundtrack.  Campbell himself is nominated for co-writing the song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” in the Best Country Song category.  The song is also nominated in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category.

Former Arkansan Smokie Norful is nominated for two Grammy Awards tonight.  For his song “No Greater Love” he is nominated for Best Gospel Performance/Song. His album Forever Yours is nominated for Best Gospel Album.

John Waters, who will be headlining at the 2015 Arkansas Literary Festival, is nominated for Best Spoken Word Album for Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America.

Though not an Arkansan, Roseanne Cash comes from Arkansas stock and has been an active supporter of efforts to establish a museum in Dyess, Arkansas. She is nominated for three Grammy Awards: Best American Roots Performance (“A Feather’s Not a Bird”), Best American Roots Song (“A Feather’s Not a Bird”), and Best Americana Album (The River & The Thread).

The Grammy Hall of Fame contains several recordings with Arkansas connections.  The 1969 album The Band by The Band, which featured Levon Helm, was inducted in 1999.  Louis Jordan has several singles inducted: 1946’s “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens,” 1945’s “Caldonia Boogie,” 1946’s “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” and 1946’s “Let the Good Times Roll,” Charlie Rich’s 1973 single “Behind Closed Doors” was inducted as was Conway Twitty’s 1970 hit “Hello Darlin’.” Patsy Montana is included for her 1935 song “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”  Al Green is included for 1971’s “Let’s Stay Together” and 1974’s “Take Me to the River.”

Glen Campbell and his family at the 2012 Grammy Awards

Glen Campbell and his family at the 2012 Grammy Awards

Glen Campbell has three recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame: 1967’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” 1967’s “Gentle on My Mind,” and 1968’s “Wichita Lineman.”  Johnny Cash has four entries: the singles “Folsom Prison Blues” from 1956, “I Walk the Line” from 1956, and “Ring of Fire” from 1963. In addition his album “Johnny Cash at San Quentin” from 1969 was inducted.

The 1949 musical cast album from South Pacific featuring a heroine from Little Rock was inducted. Another Broadway-themed inductee is “Lullaby of Broadway” featuring former Little Rock resident Dick Powell from 1935.

Here are some past Grammy winners from Arkansas:

  • Bill Clinton, 2004 Best Spoken Word Album – My Life
  • Bill Clinton and others, 2003 Best Spoken Word Album for Children – Peter and the Wolf
  • Hillary Clinton, 1996 Best Spoken Word Album – It Takes a Village
  • Evanescence, 2003 Best New Artist, Best Hard Rock Performance (“Bring Me to Life”)
  • Al Green has 11 Grammy Awards spanning from 1981 to 2008. In 2002 he was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Johnny Cash won 13 Grammy Awards spanning from 1967 to 2007. In 1999 he was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Glen Campbell received 5 Grammy Awards in 1967 and 1968. In 2012, he was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award. That moment is captured in the documentary Glen Campbell, I’ll Be Me.
  • As part of The Band, Levon Helm received a 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award. As an individual artist he received Grammy Awards in 2007, 2009 and 2011.
  • Conway Twitty received a 1971 Grammy for Country Duo or Group for “After The Fire Is Gone” duet with Loretta Lynn.
  • Charlie Rich won the 1973 Grammy for Male Country Vocal Performance for “Behind Closed Doors.”
  • Smokie Norful won the 2004 Grammy for Contemporary Soul Gospel Album for Nothing Without You.
  • Maya Angelou won Grammy Awards in the Spoken Word Album for 1993’s On the Pulse of Morning, 1995’s Phenomenal Woman and 2002’s A Song Flung Up to Heaven.

Maya Angelou celebrated at Mosaic Templars this morning

mosaictemplarsToday at 10am, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center celebrates the life of poet, author, entertainer and civil rights activist, Dr. Maya Angelou.

The former Arkansan’s inspirational story will be brought to life by Dr. Gwendolyn Twillie, former chairwoman of the Theatre and Dance Department at UALR.

Registration is required. Contact Elvon Reed at 501.683.3592.

The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Remembering 14 Cultural Figures from 2014

Little Rock lost several cultural luminaries in 2014. Some were practitioners, others were volunteers and donors.  All were passionate about the role the arts and culture play in not only everyday lives, but in making a city great.

While there are doubtless omissions to this list, these 14 are representative of the loss in 2014 but also the rich cultural legacy of the Little Rock area. They are presented in alphabetical order.

1414mayaThough never a Little Rock resident, Maya Angelou is linked to the City’s cultural life. Throughout her career, she would make appearances in Little Rock at a variety of venues. As an actress, dancer, poet and professor, she lived life to the fullest and encouraged others to do likewise.

1414jeffbJeff Baskin was more than a librarian in North Little Rock. He was a religious scholar, an actor, and an appreciator of many art forms. He was a regular fixture at cultural events on both sides of the Arkansas River. With his sly smile and quick wit, he put others at ease. His charm was disarming and his circle of friends was boundless.

1414BowenAttorney, banker, historian, author, Dean, advisor, raconteur. This was Bill Bowen. And so much more.  He helped build Little Rock and Arkansas into modern entities. As such, he realized the value of arts and culture to the big picture.  He was not only generous with money, he was generous with wise advice.

1414tcT.C. Edwards was far more than the lead singer of TC and The Eddies, TC and The Ponies and The Piranhas. One of the most familiar faces in the Little Rock music scene over the last 25 years, he was an icon. Much more could be said about him, but he’d prefer the music just keep playing.

1414lawrenceBroadway star Lawrence Hamilton. After conquering the Great White Way, he conquered the Rock. Whether with the Philander Smith College Choir, the Arkansas Rep, Arkansas Symphony, surprising Governor Beebe, or at an event, Lawrence was a consummate performer and warm and welcoming individual.

1414anneAnne Hickman was ever-present at the Arkansas Arts Center. For over forty years she gave time and money to make sure this museum could fulfill its mission. Her generous smile and ebullience were also part and parcel of many Arts Center events. In recognition of her dedication, she received the Arts Center’s Winthrop Rockefeller Award in 2008.

1414geraldGerald Johnson was a tenor saxophone player and Little Rock music scene mainstay. Whether headlining a concert or as a side man in a recording session, he brought the same level of cool excellence to his playing. He also mentored younger musicians and worked to instill love of music in many generations.

1414warrenWarren Law lit up Little Rock. For nearly three decades he was lighting designer and a teacher at UALR.  He designed the lighting for many Ballet Arkansas, Murry’s Dinner Playhouse and Arkansas Arts Center productions as well. At the time of his death, he was the lighting designer for Robinson Auditorium and the Little Rock School District.

1414barbaraBarbara Patty was a force of nature, especially when it came to support of music and art. As a singer, master gardener at museums, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra volunteer and board member, Arts Center docent, Aesthetic Club president, and general lover of the arts, she not only enjoyed the arts, she was a mentor and encourager of arts patrons and practitioners.

1414pennickBanker Edward M. Penick served on the Arkansas Arts Center Board of Trustees.  As a longtime leader at Worthen Bank, he was instrumental in helping establish many nascent cultural institutions such as the Arts Center, Arkansas Symphony and Arkansas Rep as they were getting established in the 1960s and 1970s.

1414TTheresa Quick, or “T,” was a founding member of the Arkansas Rep. She spent over three decades on stage as an actress. She also was a teacher and mentor.  In addition to usually stealing the show when she appeared at the Rep, she shone at Murry’s, the Arts Center and countless radio commercials.

1414kayKay Terry Spencer enjoyed being on stage, but also enjoyed volunteering to make sure others had the opportunities to shine in their artistic talents. After moving to Little Rock, she spent countless hours as a volunteer at the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and with the Fine Arts Club.

1414billTBill Trice. That name is synonymous with the arts in Little Rock. He was an actor, director, dancer, singer, teacher, student and mentor. From small blackboxes to large halls, bars to churches, his smile and talents left their mark. He was an expert attorney too. And a lover of music (all types), politics (Democratic), and his exceptionally talented family.

1414pollyCaroline “Polly” Murphy Keller Winter embraced the arts as she embraced all aspects of life – fully and without reservation. She served as board chair for the Arkansas Symphony and established the ASO endowment, which continues to grow.  She was an active supporter of the arts in Little Rock, south Arkansas and other states.