As all sectors did, the Little Rock arts and culture community responded to September 11.
Two of the groups in particular come to mind. When airspace was closed on September 11, several flights were grounded in Little Rock. The passengers on those planes became unexpected visitors to Little Rock. Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey and Assistant City Manager Bruce Moore led efforts to make sure that everyone had a place to stay that evening.
The Arkansas Rep had opened its production of You Can’t Take It with You on Friday, September 7. The show was already scheduled to be dark on September 11, but on Wednesday, September 12, 2001, the performances resumed. That night the Rep offered these unexpected Little Rock guests free tickets to the performance.
Seeing a play which was both heartwarming, comic and full of Americana was the perfect balm for audiences who were weary, confused and nervous in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Most of the cast of that production was from New York City. Luckily, all of their friends and family back in New York were all safe.
Also on September 12, 2001, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra presented a previously scheduled concert with Michael Bolton. He had been traveling by bus so was able to get to Little Rock. His concert was cathartic for the 2000 plus attendees at Robinson Center Music Hall. It offered not only a communal experience but also a welcome break from 24 hour coverage.
Three days later, on September 15, the ASO kicked off its MasterWorks series. As has been tradition since the days of Francis McBeth as conductor, that first concert of the season began with the National Anthem. The audience and musicians gathered and sang and played with unprecedented gusto that night.
Phyllis D. Brandon played a unique role in shaping and supporting Little Rock’s cultural life. As the first and longtime editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s High Profile section, she promoted cultural institutions, supporters and practitioners.
Since it started in 1986, being featured in High Profile has been akin to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It exposes cultural institutions and events to new and wider audiences. There is no way to put a monetary measure on the support Brandon gave to Little Rock’s cultural life during her time leading High Profile from 1986 to 2009. From 2009 to 2011, she served as editor of Arkansas Life magazine, again supporting and promoting cultural life.
With her unassuming manner, she coaxed stories out of interview subjects and captured photos which highlighted events. 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.
In August 1961, it was announced that Duke Ellington would perform in concert at Robinson Center. He had previously played there in the 1940s and early 1950s. His concert was set to be at 8:30 pm on Tuesday, September 5.
Due to the changes of times, the NAACP had a relatively new rule that they would boycott performers who played at segregated venues. When it became apparent that Robinson would remain segregated (African Americans restricted to the balcony), the NAACP announced they would boycott any future Ellington performances if he went ahead and played Robinson.
The music promoters in Little Rock (who were white) petitioned the Robinson Auditorium Commission asking them to desegregate Robinson – even if for only that concert. The Commission refused to do so. Though the auditorium was finding it harder to book acts into a segregated house, they felt that if it were integrated, fewer tickets would be sold.
On September 1, 1961, Ellington cancelled the concert.
Robinson remained segregated until a 1963 judge’s decision which integrated all public City of Little Rock facilities (except for swimming pools).
Renaissance Man is probably the best way to describe Phillip Rex Huddleston. He is a writer, a musician, a composer, an artist, a teacher, an arts promoter, and so many other things.
By day, he is the Visual Art Specialist for eStem Middle School. There, he teaches his students a variety of styles of art. His own visual art style varies from realistic sketches, to caricatures, to comic strips and witty distillations of epic literature into a few frames.
As a guitarist and pianist he can often be found performing with his many talented friends throughout Little Rock’s live music scene in formal settings and on front porches. As a composer, he has contributed compositions and performances to a variety of films made in Arkansas. His most recent effort was in Mark Thiedeman’s White Nights, which premiered in August.
A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas with a BA in Philosophy and an MA in English Literature, he was an Adjunct Instructor at UCA in the English Department before beginning his stint at eStem. While at UCA, he also worked with the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre.
For several years, he and friends and roommates would host regular Garland House Shows, named for the street on which their house was located. These combined visual art exhibits with live music in celebrations of the art they created and the friends who created and appreciated it.
What do a rockabilly musician turned cinematic swamp monster, an instrument that lent its name to a weapon, and the creator of Schoolhouse Rock! have in common? They all come from Arkansas. The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, a department of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), will host a cocktail party to celebrate the release of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas Music, a new Butler Center Book, on Thursday, September 19, at 5:30 p.m. in the Main Library’s Darragh Center, 100 Rock Street. Reservations are appreciated, but not required. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 918-3033.
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas Music is a special project of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture (EOA), an online encyclopedia launched in 2006 by the Butler Center. This colorful, photo-filled reference work spanning all aspects of Arkansas’s musical past and present includes more than 150 entries on musicians, ensembles, musical works, and events.
Also included is a musical map of Arkansas showing important musical sites-both defunct and still in existence-including the Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway. Covering the genres of blues/R&B, classical/opera, country, folk, gospel/contemporary Christian, jazz, rock, and rockabilly, this encyclopedia has something to interest any lover of Arkansas music and Arkansas history-as the state’s past, present, and future are tied to its music.
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas Music is available at River Market Books & Gifts, 120 River Market Ave., and from the University of Arkansas Press, Butler Center Books’ distributor, www.uapress.com. Butler Center Books is a division of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. The Butler Center’s research collections, art galleries, and offices are located in the Arkansas Studies Institute building at 401 President Clinton Ave. on the campus of the CALS Main Library. For more information, contact Rod Lorenzen at (501) 320-5716 or email@example.com.