From blues, country and folk music to the silver screen and a constant change in the political spectrum, Arkansas has a storied past worth exploring.
Holding patents in acoustics, ballistics, and geophysics, Paul Klipsch founded Klipsch Audio Technologies in 1946 in Hope. Today, it is one of the leading speaker companies in the United States and a world-leader in premium-quality audio products.
Arkansas is steeped in blues history that dates all the way back to the start of the 20th century. It gained momentum in the ‘20s and ‘30s and in 1941, a blues music radio program, “King Biscuit Time,” began broadcasting five days a week on KFFA 1360 AM out of Helena. For the first time, blues was heard regularly live over the airwaves in its birthplace, and recognition of both “King Biscuit Time” and the blues spread.
Conway Twitty, born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, was influential in both the country and rock genres. Growing up in Helena, Twitty became a successful rock artist, releasing several singles that hit No. 1 on the pop charts, such as “It’s Only Make Believe” in 1958.
In 1964, the world’s most popular music group, The Beatles, visited the Lawrence County town of Walnut Ridge en route to Alton, Missouri. The Walnut Ridge airport was ideal for the group to change planes. On Sept. 18, 2011, Walnut Ridge unveiled a monument, designed to look like the cover of the album “Abbey Road,” to commemorate the event.
The idea for the Ozark Folk Center stemmed from the success of the Arkansas Folk Festival, which debuted in April 1963 in Mountain View under the partnership of the Ozark Foothills Handicraft Guild (later known as the Arkansas Craft Guild) and the Rackensack Folklore Society. Today the town is considered the home of American Folk Music.
The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra was incorporated in 1966 after several previous and shorter-lived attempts to create a sustainable performing group.
The legendary King Biscuit Blues Festival started in 1986 as a one-day event on the back of a flatbed truck in front of an old train depot. Today, the multi-day festival is celebrated on Cherry Street in Helena-West Helena. Famous artists B.B. King, Levon Helm, Keb’ Mo’, Pinetop Perkins, Robert Cray, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, Greg Allman and Bonnie Raitt have performed at the festival.
In 1980, Dyess native and superstar Johnny Cash became the youngest person ever elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. On Feb. 28, 1985, the Arkansas legislature approved Act 277, designating the fiddle as the official musical instrument of the state of Arkansas.
The highly popular Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival, a four-day musical extravaganza, moved its festivities from Lawrence, Kan. to Mulberry Mountain, outside of Ozark, in 2009. Grammy Award-winners The Black Keys, as well as The Black Crowes, The Flaming Lips, Wilco, Snoop Dogg and others have rocked the Wakarusa stage.
In 1928, award-winning silent-film director King Vidor shot his first talking picture in Arkansas and Tennessee. “Hallelujah” (1929) was the story of an African-American sharecropper-turned-preacher who fought the temptations of a beautiful city girl. It was shot near the banks of the Mississippi River and in a swamp near West Memphis.
In the late 1960s, Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller
promoted the state to filmmakers by offering help from his staff and state troopers in scouting out locations during production. In the next decade, Arkansas became a regular shooting site for independent films.
Another major motion picture shot on Arkansas soil in the 1990s was based on the work of an Arkansas native. “The Firm” (1993) was adapted from a novel by best-selling author John Grisham, a native of Jonesboro
. Some scenes were shot in West Memphis
An Arkansas landmark was featured in one of the most popular movies of all time. The opening credits of “Gone with the Wind” (1939) include several short scenes of Southern locations, including the Old Mill
in North Little Rock
, now a city park. The site is the last location from the film still in existence today.
Director/producer Roger Corman made two movies in Arkansas, including 1970’s “Bloody Mama,” starring Robert De Niro and “Boxcar Bertha” in 1972, Martin Scorsese’s first Hollywood assignment.
native Billy Bob Thornton developed and shot movies in the state in the early ‘90s, including “One False Move” (1992), which was shot near Brinkley
and Cotton Plant
, and notable film “Sling Blade” (1996) shot in Saline County. Thornton won an Academy Award for this screenplay and a nomination for his performance in the film as main character Karl Childers.
“Mud” (2012) starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon was filmed in the Delta region by Arkansas native Jeff Nichols, who utilized locations in Crockett’s Bluff, DeWitt
, Lake Village
and hired more than 400 local residents to complete the movie.
The number of movie festivals across the state skyrocketed in recent years and include the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
(founded in 1992), and the Ozark Foothills FilmFest in Batesville
(founded in 2001. In 2015, Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis co-founded Arkansas’s newest—the Bentonville Film Festival
, which champions for women and diversity in film.
Arkansas became the 25th state and made Little Rock its new capital in 1836. The fledgling state’s population was just more than 50,000.
The early 1900s saw three major policies go into effect. Prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcohol in 1916 and a ban on alcohol importation in 1917, and – also in 1917 – a law granting Arkansas women the right to vote in party primaries.
Education took center stage in 1957 when the Little Rock School District approved an integration plan at Little Rock Central High School.
There was local opposition, including Gov. Orval Faubus calling Arkansas National Guard units to prevent the plan. President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, where integration at Central proceeded under the guard of federal troops with nine African-American students who became known as the “Little Rock Nine
Hope-born Bill Clinton was elected Governor of Arkansas in 1978. After serving for a decade, he pursued the White House and won. Clinton was elected the 42nd President of the United States in 1992, defeating Republican incumbent George H. W. Bush. Inaugurated at age 46, Clinton was the third-youngest president, and presided over the country’s longest period of peacetime economic expansion. The William J. Clinton Presidential Center & Library
opened in Little Rock
in November 2004.