Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Remembering Betty Fowler

(Photo courtesy of Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation)

Arkansas entertainer icon Betty Fowler died Saturday, April 15, 2017.

The information below is adapted from her obituary.

Betty was born on September 17, 1925 in Wynne, Arkansas to the late Harry Willis Hunter and Elizabeth Sands Hunter. Her love for music began at age 9, when she started taking piano lessons. Betty began her illustrious career at age 18 after winning a talent contest, which gave her the push she needed to pursue her life’s passion. Betty graduated from Little Rock Jr. College in 1944. She spent most of her life in Little Rock as a popular musician and television entertainer.

Betty began her musical career on a statewide radio show. She moved on to become a television performer in the early 1950’s in Little Rock with what is now known as Channel 7. She was best known for her children’s TV show, “Betty’s Little Rascals”, which began in 1955.

She went on to co-host the “Little Rock Today Show” on Channel 4 with Bud Campbell, where she did live commercials, played the piano and interviewed celebrities who came to town, such as Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope, Red Buttons and Robert Goulet.

Through the years, Betty maintained a vigorous schedule with her band, “The Betty Fowler Four”, which produced a record album of her music. She was also musical director for The Miss Arkansas Pageant (1960-84), Musical Director for Broadway musicals produced by the Community Theater, Musical Director for the Farkleberry Follies and The Gridiron.

For many years, Betty taught piano and had a recording studio in her home, where she gave voice coaching lessons and made accompany tapes for many aspiring performers.
Betty Fowler will forever be remembered and treasured for her lifetime love and devotion to the world of music, both in performing and in the teaching of music to others.


Little Rock Look Back: Miss America comes to Little Rock

miss america axumToday, Miss America 2017 Savvy Shields comes to Little Rock as part of her official homecoming to Arkansas after winning the crown.  In honor of that, we take a look back to the first visit to Arkansas by Donna Axum, who was the first Miss Arkansas to win the title of Miss America.

A native of El Dorado and a student at the University of Arkansas, during her reign as Miss America Miss Axum (or simply Donna as the newspaper headlines referred to her) made four public visits to Little Rock.  As the first Miss Arkansas to become Miss America, the state’s Capitol City was very interested in giving her a warm welcome.

After being crowned on September 7, 1963, her first visit to Arkansas was November 1 through 3.  In addition to stops in Hot Springs and El Dorado, she appeared in Little Rock to attend events including an Arkansas Razorback football game at War Memorial Stadium.  Her entourage included the top four runners up from the Miss America pageant.

In February 1964, she made a brief appearance in Little Rock which included a press conference.

Donna Axum spent nearly two weeks in Arkansas in May 1964 attending several pageants as well as spending time with family.  During that visit she appeared in Little Rock twice.  The second time she headlined a concert with the Arkansas Symphony (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra) and the Arkansas Choral Society. It took place at Robinson Auditorium.

Black History Month Spotlight: Lencola Sullivan

Entertainer and journalist Lencola Sullivan broke many barriers. While she gained recognition as a pageant winner, she also made a name for herself on other arenas.

In 1980, she was crowned Miss Arkansas, becoming the first contestant in pageant history to win the talent award and the title.

In the Miss America pageant, she became the first African American to win a preliminary award and to place among the top five finalists.

Around the time she was competing in pageants, she was employed by KARK as a producer and eventually an on-air reporter.

She eventually moved to New York to focus on her career as a singer and public speaker.

Sullivan had studied piano for seven years and voice and organ for one year. As a vocalist, she performed with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, with Stevie Wonder, with Kool and the Gang, and at both of President Bill Clinton’s inaugural balls, in 1993 and 1997.

She has also performed throughout The Netherlands, on Dutch National Television, and at Jazz Club 606 in London. Sullivan has also appeared on several television soap operas, in industrial films, and in many television commercials.

In 2002, Sullivan married Roel P. Verseveldt of The Hague. She and her husband are involved in international business activities. Sullivan is a frequent lecturer at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands.

She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2006. For more information on Lencola Sullivan and the other Arkansas Black Hall of Fame inductees, visit the permanent exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage

Black History Month Spotlight – Jimmy McKissic

bhm mckissicJames Henry “Jimmy” McKissic was born March 16, 1940 in Little Rock and was raised in Pine Bluff by his parents, Rev. James E. McKissic and Rosa Daniels McKissic.  He spent a lot of time in church and by age 3 was playing church hymns by ear. His mother was his piano teacher until age 13. At that point, she decided he needed professional instructors. He soon developed the dream of someday playing at Carnegie Hall.

Growing up in Pine Bluff in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was well known for musical talent in both the white and African American communities.  He served as a musical coach for a Miss Pine Bluff contestant, Frances Jane Anderson, who later went on to become Miss Arkansas and first runner up to Miss America.  Today, she is better known as Frances Cranford.


As a young man Jimmy played for St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and the Mt. Calvary Baptist, where his father pastored. He also played for other churches in Pine Bluff and the surrounding area.  He earned a B.S. in Music Education from A.M.&N. College (now UAPB) which was followed by additional study with Marjorie Petray of Berkeley, before receiving a Hertz Scholarship to further his piano and musical training in Geneva, Switzerland. He worked at the American Church in Paris, where he was in charge of young adults for two years.

Establishing residency in Cannes, France, Jimmy’s personality led him to become one of Europe’s most popular entertainers. He performed concerts all over the globe including Switzerland (Geneva, Lucerne, Davos), Franc (Paris, Biarritz, Nice, Cannes), Morocco, England, Kenya (Nairobi, Mombasa), Syria, Holland, Bangkok, Singapore and Brazil, among others. He performed in numerous cities and states in the USA including Arkansas, California, Mississippi, Texas and New York. During his lifetime, while spending 49 years of his life abroad Jimmy played for three U.S. presidents. He also performed 28 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

After that debut, Jimmy considered it a privilege to invite people to attend his concerts “without charge”. He would say, “To whom much is given, much is required.” He often closed his classical concerts with hymns and/or popular songs as a reminder of his roots and his celebration of the universal nature of music. People from all over the world would come to hear him play from as far away as Australia or as close as Washington, D.C.  He later served on the musical faculty of the University of California, Berkeley.

A PBS documentary, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall,” chronicles his odyssey from Pine Bluff to New York, with scores of stops and detours in between.  In 1994, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  Regardless of where he lived or worked, he continued to visit Arkansas and support endeavors in the state.  In 2006, he lent his talents to a fundraiser for the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.  Four years later, he made the rafters shake in capacity concerts at that now-opened museum as well as the Clinton Presidential Center.  In addition to his musical talent and winning personality, he was known for his unique fashion sense (deliberately not matching his shoes was one trademark).

Two years ago today (February 13, 2013), McKissic died. His funeral services were held on the campus of UAPB, where he had spent so much time growing up.

For more on Jimmy McKissic and other inductees into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, visit the permanent exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. That museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Big Jingle Jubilee Holiday Parade this afternoon

santa big jubilieeFloats! Marching Bands! Santa Claus! and Miss Arkansas! What more could you want?

The Annual Big Jingle Jubilee Holiday Parade, sponsored by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau (LRCVB), will return to Little Rock Saturday, December 6, 2014. Serving as this year’s Grand Marshal is Miss Arkansas 2014, Ashton Campbell. She is a 20-year old junior at the University of Arkansas, where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration with an emphasis in Human Resource Management. In the recent Miss America Pageant, Campbell represented Arkansas very well finishing as 2nd Runner Up to Miss America and took home a $20,000 scholarship. Campbell’s platform is “Aim Higher: Setting our Sights on Higher Education”. This aims to help students across Arkansas take the next steps in furthering their education. It’s Ashton’s personal goal to speak to 75,000 students in Arkansas during her reign and help create a stronger Arkansas through Higher Education.

Beginning at Second and Broadway, the Holiday parade will start at 3:00 p.m. and travel south on Broadway, turn west onto Capitol Avenue and end at the State Capitol. The lighting and fireworks display will follow at dark or approximately 6 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.

Campbell will join Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudy the Reindeer and many of their friends for this year’s highly anticipated holiday parade. Bring your camera and kids to watch decorated floats, marching bands, dancing troops and more make their way through the streets of downtown Little Rock.

School marching bands and non-profit community organizations will again have the opportunity to win cash prizes as part of the parade’s float competition. The band cash prizes will be $1,000 and $500 for first and second places and $1,000, $750 and $500 for the top three winners among non-profit entries. Local guest judges will evaluate the competition and will be positioned along the parade route at an official judge’s stand. Winners of the float and marching band competition will be posted on after the conclusion of the parade.

“Miss Arkansas Ashton Campbell is a wonderful ambassador to our state, and we are very excited that she’ll be joining us in this year’s holiday parade” said Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau President & CEO Gretchen Hall. “We look forward to Little Rock citizens and visitors alike enjoying the upcoming Big Jingle Jubilee event. We encourage everyone to come and participate in this fun family-friendly celebration and experience our community holiday spirit during this memorable event.”