Tag Archives: Miss Arkansas

Final day to see Miss Arkansas gowns at Old State House Museum

For the second year in a row, the Old State House Museum has had an exhibit of gowns worn by winners of the Miss Arkansas title.

While many of the gowns are those worn on the night the winner was crowned, among the collection is a gown worn by Helen Gennings, Miss Arkansas 1968. After her win, Helen went with other pageant winners from across the country to entertain troops in Vietnam. The gown has dirt on the sleeve and hem from Vietnam.  As a tribute to the troops, Helen refused to have the dress cleaned.

You can see this and other gowns at the Old State House today from 9am until 5pm.

The Old State House Museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

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Little Rock Look Back: Miss America Donna Axum sings at Robinson Auditorium

Photo from Encyclopedia of Arkansas, courtesy of Mike Polston

While she had made a few other appearances in Little Rock during her reign as Miss America, on May 11, 1964, Donna Axum appeared in concert at Robinson Auditorium.

She sang with the Arkansas Symphony (not directly connected with the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra) and the Arkansas Choral Society.

The concert was part of the Arkansas State Festival of the Arts which was an annual event from the late 1950s until the mid 1960s.

Miss Axum’s most recent appearance at Robinson was last June when she appeared, along with several other former Miss Arkansas title holders, at the 2017 Miss Arkansas pageant.  She was joined on stage by Savvy Shields, who like Miss Axum, was a former Miss Arkansas who held the title of Miss America.

LR Women Making History – Betty Fowler

Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation

The word “Entertainer” seemed to have been invented for Betty Fowler.

Born in Wynne, 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: Aluminum Bowl

Aluminum_Prog_f
Courtesy of Paul Edwards to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture

On December 22, 1956, Little Rock played host to the first (and only) Aluminum Bowl.  It was the NAIA national championship game between Montana State University and St. Joseph’s College (of Indiana).  This was the first time the NAIA had a football championship.

Originally the game was set to be played in Shreveport, Louisiana.  But because some NAIA schools were integrated, it was forbidden by a state law passed by the Louisiana legislature.  The Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and others worked to bring the game to War Memorial Stadium.  Because of the importance of the aluminum industry in Central Arkansas, the name Aluminum Bowl was chosen.  Both ALCOA and Reynolds were major sponsors of the event.

The game, which was aired on CBS TV and radio, was played on a rain-soaked muddy field and turned into a defensive slugfest. Both teams only got close to scoring once.  The score ended up a 0 to 0 tie.  Both teams were declared co-champions.  The rain kept the crowds away as only 5,000 people showed up leaving 33,000 empty seats in the stadium.  Miss Arkansas Barbara Banks, who had been wearing a dress made entirely out of aluminum, spent the game covered up to keep the dress dry.

The next year, the game went to Saint Petersburg, Florida, where it was rechristened the Holiday Bowl.  The Little Rock outing would mark the only appearance by either team in the NAIA championship game.  Both teams subsequently switched to NCAA competition.  As of the spring of 2017, St. Joseph’s has suspended operations because of financial shortcomings.

It has been said that Little Rock leaders had wanted to get the Aluminum Bowl game to showcase that Little Rock was a progressive Southern city when it came to race relations. By 1956 the buses and the public library were integrated.  However, both teams were faced with their African American players having to stay at separate hotels while in Central Arkansas (one in Little Rock, the other team in Hot Springs).

For more on the Aluminum Bowl, visit the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.

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