Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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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.


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Women’s History Month – Raye Montague

Last month, Raye J. Montague, RPE was recognized on “Good Morning America” for her work as a pioneering scientist. She was not only the first woman to design a U.S. Naval ship using a computer, or the first African American to do so, she was the first PERSON to do so.

She began a career in Washington, DC with the United States Navy in 1956 and retired in 1990 after serving in numerous leadership roles during her tenure of thirty-three and one-half years. Her work designing the FFG-7 Class in the early 1970s revolutionized naval ship design.  She also served as the first female Program Manager of Ships in the US Navy and was the first female professional engineer to receive the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Achievement Award.

Throughout her career she received many honors, and was often the first woman of any race to achieve statuses in the engineering profession.

In 2006, she returned to Arkansas.  She is involved with numerous civic activities including mentoring students in the sciences at UALR and also eStem Public Charter School.  She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013.


Women’s History Month – Janet Jones, first female chair of Little Rock Chamber

Janet Jones served as the 1998 Chair of the Little Rock Regional Chamber.  She was the first woman to lead the organization in its history (which started in 1866).

She began selling real estate in 1974 and formed the company which bears her name in 1980.  In addition to continuing to be a realtor, she has remained active in civic affairs.  She is a past Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of the Little Rock Branch.

She has also served on various community boards throughout the years, including CARTI, UA Little Rock, YMCA, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, Fifty for the Future, and Youth Home. She was named Business Executive of the Year by Arkansas Business, Sustainer of the Year by The Junior League of Little Rock, ranked in the Top 100 Women in Arkansas, and Rotary Club of Little Rock Business & Professional Leader of the Year Award.


Super Bowl Sunday: Little Rock Police Copper Bowl at Quigley Stadium

A Little Rock police officer tackles a NLR player in one of the Copper Bowls.


Today is Super Bowl Sunday, so it seems to be a good time to remember the five year series of football games in Little Rock known as the Copper Bowl.

From December 1959 through December 1963, the Little Rock Police Department played the North Little Rock Police Department in a series of football games.  The Copper Bowl games were fundraisers to help the LRPD provide food and presents for needy families during the Christmas season.

The agreement was that the teams would play for five years. The team with the most wins would permanently receive the Copper Bowl trophy.  The LRPD was outfitted with uniforms from Little Rock University and Louisiana State University (thanks to the efforts of Sgt. Harold Zook).  The games were played at Quigley Stadium.

Before the final game on December 1, 1963, the series was tied at 2-2.  The LRPD team won the game and permanently captured the trophy.  Over the five year period several thousand dollars were raised.


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Black History Month – Danny Glover and Robinson Center

danny-glover-new-headshot-2010On Saturday, February 3, 2001, actor Danny Glover narrated Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra at Robinson Center.

The Culture Vulture had the privilege of spending part of the day with Mr. Glover while he was here in Little Rock. (At Mr. Glover’s request for good Soul Food, they went to Kitchen Express. When the parking lot was still full at 2:45 on a Saturday afternoon, Mr. Glover remarked “That’s a good sign.”  He enjoyed the food so much, he apparently went back the next day before leaving town.) They also discussed college and NBA basketball and went by the UA Little Rock campus where then-Lakers star Derek Fisher had played his college ball.

While Danny Glover may well be best-known for his role in the Lethal Weapon movies, his distinguished acting career has taken him to Broadway and Off-Broadway, motion picture screens and TV.  He is also well-known for his political and social activism. He is not afraid to speak his mind, and to make donations to causes in which he is a believer.

As he concludes his fourth decade of acting, Glover shows no signs of slowing down – nor does he appear to be softening his stance on social issues.


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Little Rock Look Back: The Sun shines in as HAIR plays Robinson Center

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Forty-five years ago today, on January 18, 1972, the musical Hair settled in for a week-long run at Robinson Auditorium.  The saga to bring the national tour to Little Rock had actually begun eleven months earlier.

In February 1971, a young Little Rock attorney named Phil Kaplan petitioned the Little Rock Board of Censors to see if it would allow a production of Hair to play in the city. He was asking on behalf of a client who was interested in bringing a national tour to Arkansas’ capital city. The show, which had opened on Broadway to great acclaim in April 1968 after an Off Broadway run in 1967, was known for containing a nude scene as well for a script which was fairly liberally sprinkled with four-letter words. The Censors stated they could not offer an opinion without having seen a production.

By July 1971, Kaplan and his client (who by then had been identified as Southwest Productions) were seeking permission for a January 1972 booking of Hair from the City’s Auditorium Commission which was charged with overseeing operations at Robinson Auditorium. At its July meeting, the Commissioners voted against allowing Hair because of its “brief nude scene” and “bawdy language.”

Kaplan decried the decision. He stated that the body couldn’t “sit in censorship of legitimate theatrical productions.” He noted courts had held that Hair  could be produced and that the Auditorium Commission, as an agent for the State, “clearly can’t exercise prior censorship.” He proffered that if the production was obscene it would be a matter for law enforcement not the Auditorium Commission.

The Commission countered that they had an opinion from City Attorney Joseph Kemp stating they had the authority. One of the Commissioners, Mrs. Grady Miller (sister-in-law of the building’s namesake the late Senator Robinson, she had served on the Commission since 1940), expressed her concern that allowing Hair would open the door to other productions such as Oh! Calcutta!

On July 26, 1971, Southwest Productions filed suit against the Auditorium Commission. Four days later there was a hearing before federal Judge G. Thomas Eisele. At that hearing, Auditorium Commission member Lee Rogers read aloud excerpts from the script he found objectionable. Under questioning from Kaplan, a recent touring production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite was discussed. That play has adultery as a central theme of one of its acts. Rogers admitted he found the play funny, and that since the adultery did not take place on stage, he did not object to it. Among those testifying in favor of it was Robert Reddington, who was director of performing arts at the Arkansas Arts Center.

Judge Eisele offered a ruling on August 11 which compelled the Auditorium Commission to allow Hair to be performed. Prior to the ruling, some of the Auditorium Commissioners had publicly stated that if they had to allow Hair, they would close it after the first performance on the grounds of obscenity. To combat this, Judge Eisele stated that the Commission had to allow Hair to perform the entire six day engagement it sought.

Upon hearing of the Judge’s ruling, Commissioner Miller offered a succinct, two word response. “Oh, Dear!”

In the end, the production of Hair at Robinson would not be the first performance in the state.  The tour came through Fayetteville for two performances in October 1971 at Barnhill Arena.

On January 18, 1972, Hair played the first of its 8 performances over 6 days at Robinson Auditorium.  In his review the next day, the Arkansas Gazette’s Bill Lewis noted that Hair “threw out all it had to offer” and that Little Rock had survived.

The ads promoting the production carried the tagline “Arkansas will never be the same.”  Tickets (from $2 all the way up to $8.50) could be purchased at Moses Melody Shops both downtown and in “The Mall” (meaning Park Plaza). That business is gone from downtown, but the scion of that family, Jimmy Moses, is actively involved in building downtown through countless projects. His sons are carrying on the family tradition too.

Little Rock was by no means unique in trying to stop productions of Hair.  St. Louis, Birmingham, Los Angeles, Tallahassee, Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte NC, West Palm Beach, Oklahoma City, Mobile and Chattanooga all tried unsuccessfully to stop performances in their public auditoriums.  Despite Judge Eisele’s ruling against the City of Little Rock, members of the Fort Smith City Council also tried to stop a production later in 1972 in that city. This was despite warnings from City staff that there was not legal standing.

Within a few years, the Board of Censors of the City of Little Rock would be dissolved (as similar bodies also were disappearing across the US). Likewise, the Auditorium Commission was discontinued before Hair even opened with its duties being taken over by the Advertising and Promotion Commission and the Convention & Visitors Bureau staff.  This was not connected to the Hair decision; it was, instead, related to expanding convention facilities in Robinson and the new adjacent hotel.  Regardless of the reasons for their demise, both bygone bodies were vestiges of earlier, simpler and differently focused days in Little Rock.


UALR Historian Dr. Deborah Baldwin to serve as interim provost

baldwin-cropped-700x709Dr. Deborah Baldwin, associate provost of collections and archives and director of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture, has been named the interim provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Baldwin will serve as the interim provost for the spring 2017 semester, following the departure of UALR Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs and Provost Dr. Zulma Toro, who will begin her tenure as president of Central Connecticut State University on Jan. 3. The university will conduct a search for a permanent provost with an anticipated start date of July 1, 2017.

Baldwin has served the university in a number of positions, including six years as the chair of the Department of History and nearly 20 years as the dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

Throughout her years of administrative service, Baldwin has continued to teach in the public history program and has overseen graduate student work with community organizations. Baldwin holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago.

Through her public history teaching, Baldwin and her students have helped to document the history of various Little Rock businesses and institutions. Among those are the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Museum of Discovery and Little Rock Zoo.