On September 26, 2009, future Oscar winner John Legend headlined a concert at Robinson Center.
Born in Ohio, he graduated from high school at age 16 ranked number two in the class. He attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia during college, he started performing shows–eventually playing gigs up and down the eastern seaboard. In 2001, he started performing with Kanye West. His debut solo album was released in 2004 and was certified gold. It won the 2006 Grammy for Best R&B album.
In addition to his own work, he has been a much-sought after collaborator. Between both ventures, he continued to pick up accolades and release hit songs and albums. At the time he visited Little Rock, he was promoting the album Evolver.
Since his time in Little Rock, he has toured extensively, released more albums, and continued to tour. He won the Oscar for Best Song for “Glory” from Selma. At last year’s Oscars, the film La La Land in which he appears, was nominated for several Academy Awards. It won six but NOT Best Picture.
Future Oscar nominee Ruby Dee was in Little Rock in 1992 for the filming of the Disney Channel movie The Ernest Green Story. The film was produced by Carol Ann Abrams, whose son J. J. Abrams is now an in-demand director and producer.
That Dee and her husband Ossie Davis would appear in this movie was probably no surprise. Throughout their acting careers, each had been active in the Civil Rights movement and used their status as celebrated actors to advance the cause.
The film starred Morris Chestnut as Green. The real Ernest Green served as the narrator of the film. Many local actors also appeared in the film. The world premiere was held at Little Rock Central High School. The first airing on the Disney Channel was on January 17, 1993. The film was introduced by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who would take the oath of office as President of the US three days later.
Dee was born in Ohio, but moved to New York as a child. After studying French and Spanish in college, she pursued acting as a way to continue her interest in languages. In 1950, she starred in The Jackie Robinson Story, which brought her national recognition for her film roles. She continued to alternate between film and theatre throughout her career. While she often shared the stage with her husband, the two also pursued independent projects.
She received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in Ridley Scott’s 2007 film American Gangster. Dee continued working until a few months before her death in 2014.
In 1980, Oscar winner Joanne Woodward came to Little Rock to film the TV movie Crisis at Central High. In the movie she played Elizabeth Huckaby, who was vice principal for girls at Central High during the desegregation of the school. Huckaby had written a book about her experiences which was published earlier in 1980.
The film, which aired on TV on February 4, 1981, also starred Charles Durning and Henderson Forsythe. Several local actors also appeared in the movie. While much of the interior scenes were shot in Dallas, there were exterior scenes shot at the Central High. Other Little Rock locations were also used.
Woodward was born on February 27, 1930. In the early 1950s, she split her time between theatre and TV, both based in New York City. In only her third year of making motion pictures, she won the Best Actress Oscar for her role(s) in The Three Faces of Eve. As she continued to make movies, she received three other Best Actress nominations over the decades.
In the past two decades, she has focused more on directing and producing theatre, with some voice work for films. Her last motion picture onscreen role was in 1993’s Philadelphia, where she played Tom Hanks’ mother.
Cleveland County, Arkansas, native Johnny Cash was the subject of the Oscar winning film Walk the Line. Although he never lived in Little Rock, he was a frequent visitor throughout his career.
Born on February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas, as a young boy he moved with his family to Dyess. After service in the military (in which he also had his first band), Cash moved to Memphis. It was there he broke into the music scene.
Among the venues Cash played in Little Rock were Barton Coliseum and Wildwood Park for the Arts. In one performance, he shared the stage with his friend and fellow Arkansan Glen Campbell. The largest crowd for which Cash performed in Little Rock was in 1989, when he appeared at a Billy Graham crusade at War Memorial Stadium.
Oscar winning director Elia Kazan married his second wife, actress Barbara Loden, in his son’s house on Alpine Court in Little Rock in 1967. Chris Kazan was, by that time, a copy editor for the Arkansas Gazette. He was also a Pulaski County Justice of the Peace and performed his father’s ceremony. (At the time, the Pulaski County Quorum Court had so many justices of the peace-467-that it was the world’s largest legislative body.)
Elia Kazan’s first wife had died in 1963. He and Loden had known each other for several years before the wedding. Kazan visited Little Rock frequently in the 1960s visiting his son. While here, he would go to War Memorial Park to play tennis.
Kazan won two Oscars for directing: Gentlemen’s Agreement and On the Waterfront. He was also nominated for helming A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, and America America. On the latter film he was also nominated for producing the film and for being a screenwriter. All together, his films won 21 Oscars and received an additional 37 nominations.
In 1999, Kazan received an Honorary Oscar in tribute to his career. Because he had “named names” before the House Un-American Activities Committee thereby abetting in the blacklisting of people suspected of being Communists, this recognition was not without controversy. Approximately 250 people picketed that ceremony, and some in attendance did not applaud when he came out. Earlier in the ceremony, comedian Robin Williams made light of the controversy by opining “Let Lainie Sing” a joking reference to the singer and actress Lainie Kazan (no relation).
Born in Little Rock, Robinson moved to Los Angeles at the age of four with her mother and two younger sisters. Ultimately, however, Robinson’s love for dance would become the catalyst for dreams even bigger than she ever dared to dream.
She was the choreographer for the 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2016 Oscar ceremonies. She also was the choreographer for the Oscar winning film version of Dreamgirls.
Her “big break” had come when film director John Singleton asked her to choreograph the video for Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” single. . After seven nominations, in 2004 she walked away with the MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography in a Music Video. Fatima recently directed and choreographed Cee-Lo Green’s new Las Vegas show “Loberace,” and choreographed commercials for Nike and Heineken with director Rupert Sanders. Fatima also notably choreographed the 2011 Super Bowl Halftime show with the Black Eyed Peas, 2012 Coachella Tupac Hologram, HBO Inauguration event for President Barack Obama, and the Sony Pictures movie Sparkle,starring Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston.
In 2004, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.
Written for the stage by Oscar winners Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, along with Oscar nominee Joshua Logan, in 1958 South Pacific was the fourth Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical to make it to the Silver Screen. With the female leading character, Nellie Forbush, hailing from Little Rock, there are references to Arkansas and its capital city throughout the film.
Mitzi Gaynor, played the Little Rock native, opposite Rossano Brazzi (with singing help from Giorgio Tozzi). Others in the cast were John Kerr, France Nuyen, Ray Walston, Juanita Hall, and Russ Brown. Only Hall had been in the Broadway cast.
Though the film was financially successful, it was criticized at the time for its plodding direction (by Logan) and its use of tinted washes to reflect the moods of the characters and the movie. (If the film was in a bright moment, the screen would take a yellowish hue; during tense times, it might get a blueish tint.)
Ironically, given the criticism of the film’s look, it did receive an Oscar nomination for Cinematography-Color. It also received a nomination for Scoring of a Musical Picture. South Pacific won the Oscar for Best Sound, which went to Fred Hynes. He had previously won an Oscar for work on Oklahoma! and would also win one for The Sound of Music.