Sister Rosetta Tharpe Among Arkansans Inducted into Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame


Yep, this isn’t taking place until the summer but I wanted to give you a heads up since it’s pretty cool news. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bill Carter, Louie Shelton, Gary Weir, and Mike Utley are set to be inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame this year. The ceremony is set for the Hot Springs Convention Center on Saturday June 8. Tickets for the event, which will go on sale April 1, will be $75 each or $750 for a table of 10. They can may be bought by calling the Convention Center at 501 321-2027.

Here are some quick bios of the entertainers:


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”. Tharpe passed away in 1973 and in 2007 was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. The PBS series American Masters recently released a documentary on her called Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll.


Bill Carter:  A legend in the music business, Carter  grew up in the small town of Rector. He went to law school and got jobs in southern politics, and then joined the Secret Service and served under President Kennedy and Johnson. Hewas a Secret Service agent who was assigned to help investigate Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in 1963. After leaving the Secret Service, he returned to the practice of law in Arkansas. A political activist, Carter was appointed to the Arkansas Law Enforcement Academy Commission in 1969 by Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. In that position, which he held until 1972, he co-authored a book on criminal procedures and spoke to law enforcement officials throughout the state. Carter also helped Memphis entrepreneur Fred Smith get his then-fledgling Federal Express off the ground.  He was the lawyer who was called when Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards needed legal help in Fordyce and when the Stones needed help getting back into the U.S. (after being busted for possession in Toronto) to perform their musical tours. And that is just the beginning of his story! The whole tale is told in his bio he wrote: “Get Carter: Backstage in History from JFK’s Assassination to The Rolling Stones.” He is now an attorney and television producer who lives outside Nashville, Tennessee.


Louie Shelton (b. 1941) – A North Little Rock native, Shelton is a well-known studio musician, providing guitar

Louie Shelton.

riffs for such hits at The Monkee’s “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I Want You Back,” by the Jackson Five, and the long guitar solo on “Hello” by Lionel Richie. In addition to playing, he has also produced for recording artists such as Seals and Crofts, Art Garfunkel, Dan Seals, and Corey Wells. Albums by Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, Whitney Houston, Glen Campbell and John Lennon have featured his playing. Shelton currently lives in Australia but makes frequent trips home to the U.S. for performances. More details on Shelton can be found in this article by Lisa Armstrong in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

Gary Weir: A resident of North Little Rock, he became a television legend in the state when, in 1966, he began appearing on KATV, Channel 7 (later on KARK, Channel 4 and KLRT, Fox 16), as Bozo the Clown. The Bozo Show is a part of Arkansas television history. It aired every afternoon for 25 years showcasing cartoons and games, but mostly, bozo and the kids. ( full disclosure—I used to watch the show when I was a kid! )   Weir also has a love of Thoroughbred racing and for 18 years was host of the Oaklawn Report, which was featured on various TV channels recapping the day’s races.

Mike Utley: Musician Mike Utley was born in Blytheville and graduated from the University of Arkansas with a zoology degree (neat!). 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 his 1977 breakout “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” This is when he joined the Coral Reefer Band full-time. His is the longest active member of the band and is now the band’s 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 (Steppenwolf). He is also the producer of many albums with Buffett.

For more info on the event, contact Steve Arrison at 501-321-2027 or email the Visit Hot Springs folks at [email protected].  Featured image of Tharpe by Charles Peterson.