Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Elvis headlines Robinson

Photo by Wayne Cranford

After two visits in 1955 where he was down on the bill, Elvis Presley made his third and final appearance at Robinson Auditorium on May 16, 1956.  This time he was the star and Robinson was packed. The tickets were $1.50 in advance at Walgreens and $2.00 at the box office.

The ads featured 8 great acts in “his” variety show which consisted of the Jordonaires; Rick and Emil Flaim and their orchestra; vocalists Frankie Conners and Jackie Little and comedian-magician Phil Maraquin. A second show was added at 9:30 p.m. to accommodate the ticket demand.

About 30 minutes late, due to a missed flight, Elvis appeared on stage in a purple blazer and started singing “Heartbreak Hotel.”  The crowd rushed the stage. Little Rock police officers were able to control them eventually and get the teenagers back to their seats.  While the crowd was impressed, the police officers were less so.  One of the patrolmen told the Arkansas Gazettereporter: “I wouldn’t know him if I saw him. And I wouldn’t be here unless I was being paid.”

Disc jockey Ray Green recorded the concert that night.  Copies of the concert on CD (which also includes an interview with Presley) are prized possessions of Presley collectors.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has a special section on its website containing quotes from some of the concert attendees.


Little Rock Look Back: J. V. Satterfield Jr.

SatterfieldOn May 14, 1902, future Little Rock Mayor John Vines Satterfield, Jr. was born in Marion.   He grew up in Little Rock and Earle. J.V. was a star quarterback for the Earle football team and is featured in a painting of that team by respected painter Carroll Cloar.

Following high school, J.V. taught (including, much to his family’s amusement, a course in penmanship) and coached and sold Fords.  He then moved to Little Rock and sold insurance and later securities.  In 1931 he opened his own business; that same year he built a house at 40 Beverly Place in Little Rock, which would serve as his home until his death.

J. V. Satterfield was elected to serve as Mayor of Little Rock in 1939 and served one term, until 1941.  He was credited with saving the City from bankruptcy because of his fiscal policies. Among his efficiencies were the creation of a central purchasing office and using grass moved from the airport to feed the Zoo animals.  Though as a private citizen he had voted against the creation of a municipal auditorium in 1937, Mayor Satterfield fought valiantly to ensure that Robinson Auditorium opened to the public once he took office.  Shortly after he became Mayor, it was discovered that there were not sufficient funds to finish the construction. After the federal government refused to put in more money, he was able to negotiate with some of the contractors to arrange for the building to be completed. He also oversaw a successful special election to raise the money to finish the project.

Satterfield was a staunch supporter of the airport and worked to expand it.  He would serve as the chair of the first Municipal Airport Commission.  He also established the Little Rock Housing Authority (on which he would later serve on the board).  Mayor Satterfield also served as President of the Arkansas Municipal League in 1941.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Satterfield enlisted in the Army and was given the rank of a Major. He later was promoted to a Colonel and worked in the Pentagon during its early days.

In the late 1940s Satterfield became president of a small Little Rock bank called People’s Bank.  The bank changed its named to First National Bank when it moved into new offices at 3rd and Louisiana in 1953.  By focusing on smaller customers and courting corporate customers, Satterfield grew the bank into one of the state’s largest banks.  He maintained his desk in the lobby of the bank so he could interact with the customers and ensure they were having a positive experience.

Due to chronic health issues, Satterfield retired from the bank in 1964. He died in March 1966.


Little Rock Look Back: Dr. William Grant Still

Long known as the Dean of African American composers, Dr. William Grant Still was a legend in his own lifetime.

Dr. Still, who wrote more than 150 compositions ranging from operas to arrangements of folk themes, is best known as a pioneer. He was the first African-American in the United States to have a symphonic composition performed by a major orchestra. He was the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the US; the first to conduct a major symphony in the south; first to conduct a white radio orchestra in New York City; first to have an opera produced by a major company. Dr. Still was also the first African-American to have an opera televised over a national network

Dr. Still was born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi to parents who were teachers and musicians. When Dr. Still was only a few months old, his father died and his mother took him to Little Rock. Inspired by RCA Red Seal operatic recordings, his musical education began with violin lessons.  He graduated from Gibbs High School in Little Rock.

After his studies at Wilberforce University and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, he played in orchestras and orchestrated for various employers including the great W. C. Handy. For several years he arranged and conducted the “Deep River Hour” over CBS and WOR.  He also played in the orchestra for the 1921 musical Shuffle Along, which was the first Broadway musical to feature an all African-American cast and writing team.

In the 1920’s, Still made his first appearances as a serious composer in New York. Several fellowships and commissions followed. In 1994, his “Festive Overture” captured the Jubilee prize of the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra. In 1953, he won a Freedoms Foundation Award for “To You, America!” which honored West Point’s Sesquicentennial Celebration. In 1961, he received honors for this orchestral work, “The Peaceful Land”. Dr. Still also received numerous honorary degrees from various colleges and universities, as well as various awards and a citation from Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers in 1972.

In 1939, Dr. Still married journalist and concert pianist Verna Avery, who became his principal collaborator. They remained together until Dr. Still’s death in 1978.  In a proclamation marking the centennial of Dr. Still’s birth, President Bill Clinton praised the composer for creating “works of such beauty and passion that they pierced the artificial barriers of race, nationality and time.”

In 1995, Dr. Still was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  In 2016, the ballroom at Robinson Center was named in his honor.


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Little Rock Look Back: President Harry S. Truman

On May 8, 1884, future US President Harry S. Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri.

Truman spent most of his youth on the family farm.  Serving in World War I, he saw combat in France and rose to the rank of Captain.  After the war, he returned to Missouri and became involved in Democratic Party politics.  After serving as a county official, he was elected US Senator in 1935 backed by the powerful Kansas City Pendergast machine.

In 1941, he headed a Senate Committee which exposed corruption and fraud in wartime contracts.  He also worked to show he was not just a puppet of the Pendergast machine (which was crucial once Pendergast went to prison).  In 1944, Democratic leaders were trying to knock the incumbent Vice President, Henry Wallace, off the ticket as FDR’s running mate.  Wallace was viewed as too far to the left.  Truman was a compromise candidate and was chosen to serve as FDR’s running mate.

He took office as Vice President in March 1945.  When President Roosevelt died in April 1945, they had spent little time together.  He oversaw the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan in his hopes of ending World War II with fewer soldier casualties.

Following the war, he supported the creation of the United Nations, sought to contain communism through the Truman Doctrine, and worked to rebuild Europe.  In his quest to stem the spread of communism, he involved the US in the Korean War.

Domestically, he struggled with civil rights issues (including integrating the military) and labor issues (including the threat to draft striking railway workers into the military). His election in 1948 for a full four-year term is often seen as the biggest upset in US Presidential political history.

At the time he became President, Truman was still living in a small apartment with his wife and daughter.  Though they lived in the White House for a bit, they later vacated it for the Blair House so that the structure could be completely renovated.

By the approach of the 1952 presidential election, Truman’s popularity had waned again.  He half-heartedly ran in the New Hampshire primary because he did not like any of the candidates currently in the field.  After finishing second to Sen. Estes Keafauver, he announced he would not be a candidate.  He left office in 1953 and returned to Missouri.

From 1953 onward, he served as the senior statesman and father confessor of the Democratic Party.  Many political leaders made pilgrimages to visit him.  In 1965, President Johnson signed the bill establishing Medicare at the Truman Library with President and Mrs. Truman in attendance.

He died on December 26, 1972, after having been admitted to the hospital earlier in the month for pneumonia.

Truman made two visits to Little Rock while President.  In June 1949, he attended an Army division reunion and spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park.  (He also spoke twice at Robinson Auditorium during this visit.) In 1952, he visited Little Rock while in the state to speak at the dedication of Bull Shoals Dam and Norfork Dam.


Little Rock Look Back: A municipal auditorium for Little Rock is announced

On April 12, 1904, Mayor W. E. Lenon made what was the first official proposal for a municipal auditorium in Little Rock.  Little did he know at the time that it would take from April 1904 until February 1940 to make this dream a reality.

Elected as a progressive, Lenon was focused on not just providing city services, but also had an interest in initiatives which would move the city forward.  With that background it is not surprising that Mayor Lenon would be a champion for the construction of both a new city hall as well as a municipal auditorium building.  During his first annual address to the City Council in April 1904 he noted:

Recently a number of our citizens have taken an active interest in building an auditorium in our city.  This being a project of such worthy consideration should not go unnoticed by us.  Apparently this is one of the greatest needs.  Our business, social, commercial and financial interests, in fact, our entire city, would be benefitted by the building of same.  It has therefore occurred to me that an auditorium might be built in conjunction with a new city hall.

The mayor further discussed that these new structures could either be built on the site of the current City Hall or at a new location.  He also touched on possible financing options including the collection of a one percent assessment.

The mayor would bring this up again in his 1905 annual address.  It would not be until December 1905 that the City Council would officially take any action on the plan.


TARTAN DAY Little Rock Look Back: BRIGADOON comes to Robinson

April 6 is Tartan Day – a chance to pay tribute to the achievements of Scots in the U.S.  It is also a good chance to wear plaid.

On January 17 and 18, 1951, the Broadway musical Brigadoon materialized at Robinson Memorial Auditorium for its first visit to Little Rock.  This musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe is a Scottish fantasy about a town that materializes for one day every 100 years.

First performed on Broadway in 1947, it was revived at New York City Center in 1950. It was that production that toured in 1951 to Little Rock.  The production was produced by John Yorke (who had worked on the original Broadway production) and brought to Little Rock by Metropolitan Attractions.

The cast was led by future Tony nominee Susan Johnson.  Others in the cast were Elizabeth Early, Robert Busch, Betty Logue and Thaddeus Clancy. All had appeared at City Center, though some in different roles than on the tour.  This touring production featured the original Broadway creative team from 1947 with direction by Robert Lewis, choreography by Agnes de Mille (who won a Tony for it, at the first ceremony), scenery by future Tony winner Oliver Smith, costumes by Tony winner David Ffolkes, lighting by Peggy Clark, and orchestrations by Ted Royal.

Over the years, Brigadoon has resurfaced in Little Rock in community theatre and school productions.  But this was the first time that tartans of the MacLaren, Dalrymple, Brockie and Anderson clans first appeared in Little Rock.


Little Rock Look Back: First play at Robinson Center in 1940

On April 1, 1940, stage and screen star Edward Everett Horton appeared in the comedy Springtime for Henry in the music hall of Robinson Auditorium. This was the first play to be featured on the stage of the Music Hall which had opened six weeks earlier.

Springtime for Henry was a long-running vehicle for Horton.  He first played its title role in California in 1932 (shortly after its Broadway debut in 1931) and continued to play it across the country for more than 25 years, including in the 1951 Broadway revival.

As it was now springtime for Little Rock, the air conditioning was being used.  The system’s fans made so much noise that echoed through the air ducts it was hard for the audience members to hear the actors.  Once the source of this distraction was discovered, the fans were turned off; the next day plans were made to add acoustical buffering to the ducts to avoid a repeat of the situation.