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Famous Arkansans

John Hanks Alexander

(1864-1894)
The second African-American to graduate from West Point and the first African-American officer with a regular command position in the United States Army. In 1894 he was selected to serve as professor of military science and tactics at Wilberforce University, an African American college in Ohio.

Al Bell

(b. 1940)
Born in Brinkley as Alvertis Bell, he has been a disc jockey, a record producer and songwriter executive at Stax Records, the label that make Memphis a major name in pop music circles in the 1960s. From 1965-1976, he was involved in the careers of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T and the MGs, Johnnie Taylor, Sam and Dave, The Bar-Kays, The Emotions, The Dramatics, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Billy Eckstein, Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla. His career also includes time as the head of MoTown Records and the founding of Bellmark records. Some of his songwriting hits include: “I’ll Take You There,” a #1 hit in 1972 for The Staple Singers; “Comfort Me” for Carla Thomas, “Hard to Handle” for Otis Redding plus songs for Isaac Hayes, Eddie Floyd and others. Currently lives in North Little Rock working in the digital music industry. www.albellpresents.com.

Douglas A. Blackmon

(b. 1964)
Born in Stuttgart, Arkansas, Blackmon’s family moved to Mississippi, then back to Monticello, Arkansas, where he graduated from high school. He earned his college degree at Hendrix College in Conway. After college, he was first an intern then reporter for the Arkansas Democrat. In 1987, he became managing editor and part-owner of the Daily Record in Little Rock. Blackmon then moved to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1989 before joining the Atlanta office of the Wall Street Journal in October 1995. He was awarded the 93rd Annual Pulitzer Price in General Non-fiction for his book Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Doubleday) in April 2009. It is described as “a precise and eloquent work that examines a deliberate system of racial suppression and that rescues a multitude of atrocities from virtual obscurity.”

Beth Brickell

(b. 1937)
Actress who played Dennis Weaver's wife in the 1966-68 television series "Gentle Ben". This award-winning film producer was born in Brinkley, raised in Camden and now lives near Paron in Saline County. Ms. Brickell also appeared in "Marcus Welby, M.D." and "Dan August." The film, "Summers End," written, directed and produced by Beth Brickell won numerous awards. It is the story of a young girl in a small Arkansas town during the last days of summer in 1948. She enjoys the same things as boys including baseball, and playing marbles and pirates. She finds herself the focus of a family crisis when her mother insists it is time that she becomes "a girl." Her father who has always encouraged her individuality is caught in the middle. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

Ed Bruce

(b. 1939)
Born William Edwin Bruce Jr. in Keiser, Arkansas on December 29, 1939, like so many other artists, this country music singer and song writer got his start as a rockabilly act for Memphis' famed Sun Records. He is best known for penning the song, "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys." Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.



Chester Arthur "Howlin' Wolf" Burnett

(1910-1975)
A native of Mississippi, Howlin' Wolf became an Arkansan in 1948 when he moved to West Memphis. There he formed a band that included harmonica players James Cotton and Junior Parker and guitarists Pat Hare, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, and Willie Johnson. He also earned a spot on radio station KWEM, playing blues and endorsing farm gear. According to his biography, Burnett has probably had more impact worldwide than the 19th-century American president after whom he was named. With a musical influence that extends from the rockabilly singers of the 1950s and the classic rock stars of the 1960s to the grunge groups of the 1990s, plus a legion of imitators to rival Elvis he was one of the greatest and most influential blues singers ever. Wolf was inducted into the Blues Foundations Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Johnny Cash

(1932-2003)
This "Man in Black" was born to a Kingsland, Arkansas sharecropper on February 26, 1932. His first big hit was "Folsom Prison Blues" which rose to the Top Five in country singles in 1956. "I Walk the Line" became Cash's first No. 1 hit. In 1957, he made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, and by 1958, he'd published 50 songs, sold more than six million records and moved to Columbia label. Some of his other well-known recordings include "A Boy Named Sue," "Orange Blossom Special," "Ring of Fire" and "Jackson," which he recorded with his wife June Carter Cash. He starred in "The Johnny Cash Show" (ABC, 1969-71) and "Johnny Cash and Friends" (CBS, 1976). He also appeared in the movie "Gunfight" (1970), the television miniseries "North and South" (1985) and made guest appearances on various television shows. His 11 Grammys include a Lifetime Achievement Award and the 1998 Grammy for Country Album of the Year for "Unchained." Cash was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1980), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992) and the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame (1996).

Carroll Cloar

(1913–1993)
Carroll Cloar was born on January 18, 1913, on a cotton farm approximately 10 miles north of Earle. He studied various genres of art with most of his paintings being casein tempera or acrylic—on large canvases, depicting images drawn from photographs and his own memories. His style has been described as both primitive and progressively modern. Cloar earned national acclaim as a realist and surrealist artist with the majority of his works based on his memories of growing up in the Arkansas Delta. His paintings are characterized by flattened figures in landscapes formed of decorative patterning. One of his paintings was chosen to be among six paintings by American artists commemorating President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. On April 10, 1993, Cloar died after a long battle with cancer. He was cremated and his ashes scattered across his old home place in Earle. Places where Cloar’s works can be viewed include the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Crittenden County Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Library of Congress, Chase Manhattan Bank, and the Whitney Museum.

Willie Cobbs

(b. 1932)
Born in the small Monroe County of Smale; he began performing at the clubs of the Delta while still a teenager, including Brinkley's legendary White Swan. He wrote and recorded "You Don't Love me" in 1960, now a blues standard that has been covered by The Allman Brothers, Luther Allison, Stephen Stills, Ike and Tina Turner, Albert King and Booker T and the MGs. Member of the Blues Hall of Fame.


Al Green

(b. 1946)
This gospel and soul singer is an eight-time Grammy Award winner. A native of Jacknash (Lee County), he’s been referred to as “the quintessential soul man.” The Right Reverend recorded nine best-selling gospel albums. He returned to the secular world in 1987 with “Everything is Gonna Be Alright.” In 1988, he recorded a duet with Annie Lennox, “Put a Little Love in My Heart,” which was featured on the “Scrooge” movie soundtrack. His other hits include “Tired of Being Alone” and “Let’s Stay Together,” “Look What You Have Done For Me,” “I’m Still in Love with You,” and “You Ought to be with Me.” Reverend Green preaches every Sunday morning. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

George Hamilton

(b. 1939)
Blytheville-raised actor has appeared in numerous films and television shows, plus penned his memoir, “Don’t Mind if I Do,” which describes growing up in Blytheville. Though born in Memphis, Hamilton feels closer to Blytheville, where he spent much of his childhood. "It's where I will be buried, and it's where I come from," he said in an interview. "I buried my mother there, my brother there, my grandfather, my grandmother -- it's the very earth where I'm going to be." Hamilton is well-known for his tan, which he describes as “cinnamon brown,” and his self-deprecating wit. Some of his motion picture appearances include portraying Hank Williams in the low-budget biopic "Your "Love at First Bite" (1979), and “Zorro, the Gay Blade” (1981). He has also appeared in commercials and television’s “Dancing with the Stars.” He produced “My One and Only,” staring Renee Zellweger, in 2009.

Dave "Hawg" Hanner

(1930-2008)
Born in Parkin, Dave “Hawg” Hanner was an American football player, coach and scout for the Green Bay Packers. He began his football career with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Hanner, who played defensive tackle from 1952 to 1964 for Green Bay, won two NFL championships and two Super Bowls. He was also selected for two Pro Bowls. On September 27, 1959 he has a recorded safety that helped the Packers beat Chicago 9-6. He was honored by Green Bay with “Hawg Hanner Day” on November 18, 1962. Following his playing career, Hanner became the defensive line coordinator for Green Bay. Once Dan Devine took over as head coach, he promoted Hanner to defensive coordinator. In 1975, Hanner became the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. In 1982, he became Green Bay’s quality control assistant. He transferred into a scout role until he retired in 1996. Hanner suffered a heart attack and passed away on September 11, 2008.

Levon Helm

(1940-2012)
This Turkey Scratch native was a drummer, vocalist and original member of the legendary group, The Band, best-known for The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. He also played supporting roles in films such as Coal Miner's Daughter (1980), The Right Stuff (1983), and End of the Line. Awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 2008 for his work with The Band. Winner of a 2008 Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album -- "Dirt Farmer." Named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the "100 greatest singers of all time" in 2003. Member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with fellow members of The Band. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.


Wayne Jackson

(b. 1941)
Grew up in West Memphis before his life took him across the Mississippi River to Memphis, where he became a legendary backup trumpeter in such groups as the Mar-Keys. Jackson would go on to perform with a "who's who" of artists from around the world on over 300 gold and platinum records. He has played on recordings by Aretha Franklin, Sting, Tanya Tucker, Elvis Presley, U2, Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, Otis Redding, Stephen Stills, Rod Stewart, The Doobie Brothers, Marty Robbins, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, and Robert Cray and was a founder of the legendary Memphis backing band, The Memphis Horns. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

Buddy Jewell

(b. 1961)
Raised mainly in Osceola, his father was a friend of country music legend Johnny Cash who lived at Dyess not far from Osceola. In 1991, he won a talent contest sponsored by super group Alabama and opened for the group alongside Mark Chesnutt and Ricky Van Shelton. The following year, he competed on TV's Star Search, winning male vocalist on several episodes. His success on the show encouraged him to try his luck in Nashville. Jewell was the big winner on Nashville Star cable TV series in 2002, securing a record deal with Columbia, where Clint Black produced his first album.

John H. Johnson

(1918-2005)
Arkansas City native and publisher who founded Negro Digest in 1942, followed by Ebony and Jet magazines. These became the most powerful African-American owned media company in the United States. He also created Fashion Fair Cosmetics. Johnson was the first African-American to be named to the Forbes list of the 400 Richest Americans. He was awarded the "Medal of Freedom" by President Clinton on September 9, 1996.

Louis Jordan

(1908-1975)
Born at Brinkley, he studied music with his father and made his first professional appearance at Hot Springs Green Gables Club at age 15. During the 1930s Jordan worked with well-known bands from Philadelphia to New York and toured with Ella Fitzgerald. He was known as "The King of the Jukebox." He penned such favorites as "Choo Choo Boogie," "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby," "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," and "Saturday Night Fish Fry." Jordan also appeared in several movies that featured his music and toured Europe and Asia during the 1960s. He died in Los Angeles and is buried in St. Louis. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

Albert King

(1923-1992)
Born Albert Nelson on April 25, in Indianola, Mississippi, King is nicknamed "The Velvet Bulldozer." One of 13 children, King grew up picking cotton on plantations in Forrest City where the family moved in 1931, and performed near Osceola with a group called the Groove Boys. His first introduction to music was singing in church and listening to his father, Will Nelson, play guitar. Another early influence came from the family's records where he spent hours trying to copy the sounds of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson on his homemade cigar box guitars and one string diddley-bows. King obtained his first real guitar in 1942. He was fascinated by the playing of Blues musicians who frequented nearby West Memphis, Arkansas, most notably the works of Robert Nighthawk and Elmore James. He is considered one of the most influential blues guitarists ever and was the first blues guitarist to perform with a symphony (1969). In 1983, he was inducted into both the W.C. Handy International Blues Awards Hall of Fame and the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. Member Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame. 2013 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Charles “Sonny” Liston

(1932-1970)
Nicknamed “the Bear” for his massive physique, Liston was born in the small St. Francis County community of Sand Slough; he won the world heavyweight boxing championship by knocking out Floyd Patterson in the first round on September 25, 1962; Liston held the title until February 25, 1964 when he lost the title to Cassius Clay who later became Muhammed Ali. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991

Robert Lockwood Jr.

(1915-2006)
Born March 27, 1915 in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas. He first learned music on the family pump organ, then was taught the guitar at age 11 by Robert Johnson, the mysterious delta bluesman. By age 17, Lockwood was performing professionally with the likes of Johnson, Johnny Shines and Rice Miller, who became an institution himself as Sonny Boy Williamson. In 1941, Lockwood and Williamson joined forces in Helena, Arkansas to host the now legendary King Biscuit Hour on KFFA radio. During his lifetime, he received numerous accolades including the very first W.C. Handy Award. He is also a member of the Blues Hall of Fame and the Delta Blues Hall of Fame. The album, Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live In Dallas, recorded by Lockwood, Henry James Townsend, Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins, and David Honeyboy Edwards, received the 2004 Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. He continued to perform on a regular basis at the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival (formerly the King Biscuit Blues Festival) in Helena until his death.

Roberta Martin

(1907–1969)
An American gospel composer, singer, pianist, arranger and choral organizer, who helped launch the careers of many other gospel artists through her group, The Roberta Martin Singers. Martin was born in Helena but moved with her family to Chicago when she was 10. Contact with Thomas A. Dorsey, known as the Father of Gospel Music led her to form the Martin Frye Quartet in 1933. In 1936 the named changed to the Roberta Martin Singers, which set the standard for gospel choir and mixed group performers. Their extremely successful recording career featured such hits as "Only A Look," and "Grace." She composed about 70 songs, arranged and published 280 gospel songs. Her compositions include "He Knows Just How Much We Can Bear," and "God Is Still on the Throne”, "Let It Be," and "Just Jesus and Me." Martin earned six gold records. Her great contribution to the history of gospel music was her development of a distinctive gospel-piano style and the special sound of her group. With her singers, men and women were integrated for the first time into the gospel chorus. A 1998 U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamp was released in her honor. It was one of four honoring gospel women. The other women honored were Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, also an Arkansas native.

Skeets McDonald

(1915-1968)
Born on a farm in Greenway (near Rector), McDonald was a noted singer-songwriter. Best-known for his self-penned chart-topper "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes," McDonald was a honky-tonk singer and songwriter whose work helped serve to bridge the gap between country and rock and roll. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.



Robert McFerrin Sr.

(1921-2006)
Born in Marianna on March 19, 1921, McFerrin was the first African-American male to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Los Angeles Times critic Albert Goldberg described his voice as “"a baritone of beautiful quality, even in all registers, and with a top that partakes of something of a tenor's ringing brilliance." Father of Grammy Award-winning singer/musician Bobby McFerrin, he made his New York City Opera debut as Popaloi in the premier of William Grant Still’s Haitian opera, Troubled Island. Still is also an Arkansas native.

Oscar Polk

(1899-1949)
This Marianna native is best known for his role as the servant Pork in Gone With the Wind. Polk was also a fixture on the Broadway stage, appearing in a variety of dramatic and musicals roles, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning You Can't Take it With You. He was killed when struck by a taxi in Times Square at the age of 49. At the time of his death, he was to have had a major role in the play Leading Lady. He was replaced by Ossie Davis.

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith

(b. 1936)
Born in Helena, Smith is one of the many Blues legends who were influenced by Helena's KFFA King Biscuit radio show. Considered one of the world's greatest blues drummers, the multi-award winning musician is also a harmonica player. He joined the Muddy Waters Band in 1961 and toured with them until 1964. He rejoined Waters in 1968 and stayed with him until 1980. Smith is a member of The Legendary Blues Band, which appeared in The Blues Brothers movie and has also toured with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.

Cyrus A. Sutherland

(1920-2008)
Professor emeritus of the College of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, which is ranked in the Top 10 schools of architecture in the country. Other early faculty members, along with Sutherland, included such outstanding designers as John Williams, E. Fay Jones, Herbert Fowler, Ernest Jacks and Keith McPheeters. Sutherland introduced historic preservation as a part of the curriculum in 1976 and he also pioneered the study of vernacular architecture in the state. He was a member of the American Institute of Architects and the Society of Architectural Historians.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

(1915-1973)
Born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant around 1915, Rosetta’s early training was in religious music. Her mother, Kate Bell “Mother Bell” Nubin was a traveling missionary and "gospel shouter". Rosetta developed a unique vocal and guitar style that caught the attention of Decca Records who signed her in 1938. She was an overnight sensation and is considered by many to be gospel music’s first superstar. Also a crossover performer, she influenced numerous rock musicians such as Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Elvis Presley and fellow Arkansan Johnny Cash. She appeared with such legendary performers as Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Louis Jordan and took the stage at the Cotton Club and Café Society. Her biography, by George Washington University scholar Gayle Wald, is entitled “Shout, Sister, Shout: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The documentary entitled "The Godmother of Rock & Roll" was shown on PBS as part of the American Masters series. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

Charles L. Thompson

(1868-1959)
One of the state’s more prolific and successful architects. His firm designed more than 2,000 buildings, hundreds of which are still standing today. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, “Some of the best examples of his work in varied styles are the W. E. Hemingway House in Little Rock, constructed in 1895 in the Queen Anne style; the Temple B’nai Israel in Little Rock built in 1897 in the Romanesque style; the J. D. Back House built in 1905 in Little Rock, which is one of the many examples of the Colonial Revival style.” Thompson is buried at Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock.

Conway Twitty

(1933-1993)
Known as the "High Priest of Country Music," this Country Music Hall of Famer was born and raised in Helena. He was born as Harold Jenkins and later chose his stage name from Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas. He also considered "Bald Knob" as a stage name. Twitty's No. 1 hits include: "Hello, Darling," "It's Only Make Believe" and "Tight Fitting Jeans." Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.


Mike Utley

(b. 1947)
Musician Mike Utley was born in Blytheville and graduated from the University of Arkansas with a zoology degree. Early in his career he worked with the house band for Atlantic Records, backing performers such as Aretha Franklin, Jerry Jeff Walker and the Allman Brothers. In February 1973, after Jimmy Buffett had moved to Key West from Nashville, he heard Utley playing keyboards on one of Jerry Jeff Walker’s albums. He liked what he heard and asked Utley to play on his first major label album, "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean." Utley continued to work with other performers in the mid-1970s while continuing to work with Buffett until the latter’s 1977 breakout "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” He then joined the Coral Reefer Band full-time, making him the longest active member of the band. He now serves as its musical director. Utley has recorded with an impressive list of artists over his career, including Aretha Franklin, Ronnie Hawkins, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Jimmy Cliff, Sam The Sham, Jackson Browne, Booker T. Jones, and John Kay of Steppenwolf. He's also produced many albums with Buffett. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

William Warfield

(1920-2002)
A native of West Helena, Warfield is a Grammy-award winning baritone. He is known for such career-making roles as Joe in the film "Showboat" where he sings the memorable "Ol' Man River," and the role of Porgy in "Porgy and Bess." Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.



John Weston

(1927-2005)
A Lee County native, Weston was born on December 12, 1927. The singer/songwriter combined fine songwriting with a deep Delta Blues style. John began performing in 1970 and by 1977 had built a local audience in Marianna where he was living. His lyrics, which grew from his personal experience, reflect the humor and irony of daily life. He became a popular festival performer in the Delta and all over the world. He performed solo for many years although he occasionally played with a band. John won the Lucille Award (named after blues singer B.B. King’s infamous guitar) at the Handy Awards in Memphis. In 1995 he began performing as a duo with Little Rock slide guitarist Mark Simpson. His CD "Got To Deal With The Blues" contains several cuts featuring the two. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

Sonny Boy Williamson

(1908-1965)
Born on the Sara Jones Plantation near Glendora, Miss., the date and year of his birth a matter of some uncertainty. Beginning in the 1930s, he traveled around Mississippi and Arkansas and encountered Big Joe Williams, Elmore James and Robert Junior Lockwood. He was also associated with Robert Johnson during this period. Williamson lived in Twist, Ark., for a time with Howlin' Wolf's sister Mary Burnett and taught Wolf to play harmonica. In 1941 he was hired to play the “King Biscuit Time” show on radio station KFFA in Helena with Lockwood. Williamson had begun developing a following in Chicago beginning in 1953, when he appeared there as a member of Elmore James' band. During his years with Chess Records he enjoyed his greatest success and acclaim, recording about 70 songs for Chess subsidiary Checker Records from 1955 to 1964. In the 1960s he toured Europe during the height of the British blues craze, recording with The Yardbirds and The Animals. Some of his better known songs include "Don't Start Me to Talkin,'" "Fattenin' Frogs for Snakes," "Keep It to Yourself," "Your Funeral and My Trial," "Bye Bye Bird," "Nine Below Zero" and "Help Me.” His song "Eyesight to the Blind" was performed by The Who as a key song in their rock opera “Tommy” (the only song in that opus not written by a band member) and it was later covered on the Aerosmith album “Honkin' on Bobo.” His "One Way Out” became popularized by The Allman Brothers Band in the early 1970s. He returned to Helena, and died there a few hours prior to a scheduled radio performance on May 25, 1965. He is buried in Tutwiler, Mississippi. Member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

Kemmons Wilson

(1913-2003)
This Osceola native founded and opened the first Holiday Inn in 1952 in Memphis. In 1953 he formed Holiday Inns of America and served as chairman and chief executive officer until 1979. After retiring, he developed the world's largest time-share establishment, Orange Lake Country Club, which is located near Disney World. He is credited with revolutionizing the lodging industry by bringing affordable and comfortable lodging to millions.