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Among the most significant contributors to the nation’s musical foundation

State Spotlight


Became a state on..... June 15, 1836

Southern Genres..... Folk, Country, Bluegrass, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz, R&B, Southern Rock.

Arkansas music goes back to the Indians, such as the McAdoo, Osage, and the Cherokee-Quapaw. In the 1600's there were multiple occasions where people traced the earliest reference to Arkansas music. Probably the best known piece of music from this time period is The Arkansas Traveler. Arkansas is home to many different genres of music as well as being a native home to some of the best-known and influential musicians, singers, songwriters, and songs that the world has known. There was strong Ozark Mountain folk music and African-American musical traditions in Arkansas in the 1800's.

Music of Alabama

Arkansas has four official state songs:

  • State Anthem: "Arkansas" by Mrs. Eva Ware Barnett
  • State Historical Song: "The Arkansas Traveler" by Colonel Sanford C. Faulkner
  • State Song: "Oh, Arkansas" by Terry Rose and Gary Klaff
  • State Song: "Arkansas (You Run Deep In Me)" by Wayland Holyfield

  • The reason for two of the official state songs is a copyright dispute. "Arkansas" was published in 1916 by the Central Music Company, written by Eva Ware Barnett and Will M. Ramsey (though state law only credits Mrs. Barnett). It became the official song on January 12, 1917. Until either 1945 or 1949, "Arkansas" was the only official song in Arkansas. At that time, there was a copyright dispute and the state adopted "The Arkansas Traveler" as the official song, a situation that remained unchanged until 1963. In that year, the copyright dispute was resolved and "Arkansas" became official again, until 1987, when it was changed to the official state anthem. In that year, "Arkansas (You Run Deep In Me)" and "Oh, Arkansas" were officially designated state songs as well, and "The Arkansas Traveler" was designated the official state historical song.

    Arkansas Politicians and Music

    Two Arkansas politicians have been noted for mixing music with their campaigns for the presidency. Bill Clinton, attorney general and 50th and 52nd governor of the state and later president, played the saxophone, famously performing "Heartbreak Hotel" on The Arsenio Hall Show during the 1992 presidential election. Mike Huckabee, 54th governor, plays the bass guitar, and his campaign in the 2008 presidential election has prominently featured cover song performances by his band Capitol Offense.

    Halls of fame

    The Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) was created to honor Arkansans who have made outstanding contributions to the entertainment industry. Honorees include performers, non-performing contributors (such as writers, directors, and producers), and pioneers in the entertainment industry.

    In 1985, the Arkansas General Assembly authorized the establishment of a museum honoring Arkansans who have made a considerable contribution to the entertainment industry. The first inductees were honored in 1996. The following year, the state legislature transferred the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame to the Department of Parks and Tourism, along with $300,000. Several cities competed to host the museum. Pine Bluff was eventually chosen, with the Pine Bluff Convention and Visitors Bureau receiving $250,000 to establish the Hall of Fame. On October 2, 1998, the Hall of Fame opened with a permanent home in the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

    The board of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame selects honorees for induction, with nominations coming from the artists themselves or from other individuals. After a review of applications to determine if the nominee meets the basic criteria of Arkansas connection and national significance, among other factors, the nominations are held until the board’s annual meeting, at which time they are voted upon. Board members are appointed by the governor, and the board now holds an induction ceremony every two years.

    A life-size animatronic statue of Johnny Cash greets visitors with some of the most popular songs of his career. Many other well-known Arkansas entertainers, both performing and non-performing, who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame have contributed artifacts to the exhibits that represent their achievements. For example, the museum houses Bob Burns’s “bazooka” as well as the musical instruments and clothing of other performers.

    Among the inductees into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame are radio personalities Chet Lauck and Norris Goff (“Lum and Abner”); musical talents Al Green, the Browns, Patsy Montana, Levon Helm, "Lefty" Frizzell, and Jimmy Driftwood; singer/songwriter and television and motion picture actor Ed Bruce; composer William Grant Still; orchestra conductor Sarah Caldwell; jazz pianist Walter Norris; opera singer Barbara Hendricks; Broadway and motion picture performer William Warfield; gospel songwriter Albert E. Brumley; movie actors “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Julie Adams, Mary Steenburgen, Billy Bob Thornton, Dick Powell, and Alan Ladd; entertainment promoter Jim Porter; author John Grisham; screenwriter James Bridges; motion picture sound and camera lens inventor Freeman Owens; television producer and director Harry Z. Thomason; Broadway producer Elizabeth Williams; and Broadway musical performer Lawrence Hamilton.

    Styles of music


    Composer Florence Price was born in Little Rock in 1887. Arkansas is home to several classical music associations.

    The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1966. When the orchestra was founded, a local bank held the organization responsible for the debts of previous attempts at organizing an orchestra. Ten individual members assumed responsibility for the debt, and so the orchestra was formed, led by experienced conductor Vasilios Priakos. Today the Orchestra is conducted by Phillip Mann. They have an extensive outreach and education program. In February 2012, George Takei performed with the group in a Holocaust memorial.

    There are also many regional orchestras and choir societies in the state. These groups are made up of local men and women and perform classical and contemporary music at various concerts and gatherings around the state.

    Country, Bluegrass & Folk music

    Traditional folk instruments include the fiddle and banjo as well as guitar, mandolin, dulcimer and autoharp.

    Located in the Ozark Mountains, the town of Mountain View bills itself as the "Folk Music Capital of the World". There is an Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame, which includes musicians like Ronnie Dunn, Melvin Endsley, Al Green, and Jimmy Driftwood.


    Gospel music is very popular in Arkansas. Because of the racial tension past and present in the Delta region, gospel music has had a tremendous influence in the lives of African Americans in Arkansas. While Blues is dominated by men, it is the women of Arkansas who have led the way in gospel music. Gospel composer, singer, pianist, arranger Roberta Martin was born in Helena. The Brockwell Gospel Music School in Brockwell, Arkansas in Izard County, has been offering a two-week summer course in Gospel music since 1947.

    Blues and R&B

    Country blues singer and slide guitarist Casey Bill Weldon was born in Pine Bluff. Blues pianist Roosevelt Sykes was born in Elmar. Jump blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon was born in Gurdon. Electric blues and Chicago blues artist Willie "Big Eyes" Smith was born in Helena. Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Pat Hare, born in Cherry Valley, served as a sideman at Sun Records in Memphis. Billy Lee Riley, born in Pocahontas, and Sonny Burgess, born near Newport, also recorded for Sun.

    West Memphis, just across the Mississippi river from Memphis, Tennessee, has its own thriving music scene. When Beale Street would shut down for the night, performers like BB King, Ike Turner, Junior Parker, and Elmore James came to 8th street in West Memphis. Wayne Jackson even said once that "the Memphis sound was born over the river". Jackson was born and raised in West Memphis as was Chicago blues artist Junior Wells. The West Memphis R&B scene was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.


    Jazz artists born in Arkansas include pianist and bandleader Alphonse Trent from Fort Smith, trombonist Snub Mosley born in Little Rock, pianist and composer Walter Norris born in Little Rock, Joe Bishop born in Monticello, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders born in Little Rock, free jazz tenor saxophonist Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre born in Clarksville, tenor saxophonist Red Holloway born in Helena, tenor saxophonist and bandleader Hayes Pillars born in North Little Rock, Oliver Lake born in Marianna, pianist Bob Dorough born in Cherry Hill, bassist James Leary born in Little Rock, pianist Art Porter, Sr. and saxophonist Art Porter, Jr. born in Little Rock, and Amina Claudine Myers born in Blackwell.

    Southern Rock and Rock & Roll

    Sister Rosetta Tharpe from Cotton Plant was a gospel artist who achieved crossover success and became a rock & roll pioneer, influencing among many others fellow Arkansas native Johnny Cash from Kingsland. Sonny Burgess was another Arkansan who influenced the rock and roll industry as an artist for Sun Records in adjacent Memphis, Tennessee. Arkansas early rock and roll was typically rockabilly music influenced by Zydeco music and blues.

    Arkansas garage rock and psychedelic music of the 1960s has been reexamined by Psych of the South with Lost Souls.

    Independent & local

    While Arkansas is known for its southern styles of music, there is a much younger style coming from the state as well. In the late 1990s, and early 2000s, there were many rock music groups, as well as pop rock groups. One of the best-known bands from this time would be multi-platinum-selling rock band Evanescence, which has origins in Little Rock.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, Little Rock became the home of a thriving punk and metal music scene. This scene was captured in the 2007 film Towncraft. As the trends have changed, post-hardcore and metalcore have gained local popularity. Bands include Norma Jean, Blessthefall, and Fear Before the March of Flames. Doom Metal is represented by Pallbearer from Little Rock, while Rwake is known for southern sludge metal. American Princes from Little Rock show the indie rock side of Arkansas.

    Young Freq is a rapper from Little Rock working with local independent label Roc Town Music Group, formed in 2013.

    Tommy Riggs (Tom Payton) is an Arkansan singer, piano and keyboard player who had several bands while performing around the state in the 1960s and 1970s. He also was working as a radio DJ (as Tom Jones) at the time, on KCLA, during 1968 through 69 and as Tom Payton on KXLR in North Little Rock in 1964, and in 1966 at KAAY. During this period, he promoted himself as Tom Payton and the Kingpins, Tom Payton with The Playboys, and several other names. He recorded while he was Rock Robbins from KAAY on the Little Rock label MY Records in 1966. Two songs from the session were released on a 45 rpm record, "My Little Girl" and "Good Lovin'".


    Among Arkansas's most prominent modern musical festivals is Riverfest, a music festival held along the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock. Riverfest has been held annually since 1978. Wakarusa is great festival held on Mulberry mountain near Ozark.

    Arkansas Iconic Musicians

  • Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Cotton Plant) The Godmother of Rock & Roll
  • Kris Allen (Jacksonville and Conway)
  • The Browns (Sparkman)
  • Michael Burks (Camden)
  • Glen Campbell (Delight)
  • Johnny Cash (Dyess)
  • Willie Cobbs (Smale)
  • CeDell Davis (Helena)
  • Jimmy Driftwood (Mountain View)
  • Melvin Endsley (Drasco)
  • Evanescence (Little Rock)
  • Lefty Frizzell (El Dorado)
  • The Gossip (Searcy)
  • Al Green (Forrest City) had a #1 Hot 100 hit with "Let's Stay Together" in 1972
  • Levon Helm (Turkey Scratch)
  • Barbara Hendricks (Stephens)
  • Zilphia Horton (Spadra)
  • J.J. Jackson (Gillett)
  • Louis Jordan (Brinkley)
  • Tracy Lawrence (Foreman)
  • Living Sacrifice (Little Rock)
  • Justin Moore (Poyen)
  • Ne-Yo (Camden)
  • Joe Nichols (Rogers)
  • PM Today (Jacksonville)
  • Florence Price (Little Rock)
  • Collin Raye (DeQueen)
  • Charlie Rich (Benton)
  • Almeda Riddle (Cleburne County)
  • Rwake (North Little Rock)
  • Pharoah Sanders (Little Rock)
  • Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (Helena)
  • Les Spann (Pine Bluff)
  • William Grant Still (Little Rock)
  • Johnnie Taylor (Crawfordsville)
  • Tightrope (Russellville)
  • Conway Twitty (Helena) had a #1 Hot 100 hit with "It's Only Make Believe" in 1958.
  • Roosevelt Sykes (Elmar)
  • Deas Vail (Russellville)
  • Washboard Sam (Wheat Ridge)
  • Junior Walker (Blytheville)
  • William Warfield (West Helena)
  • Peetie Wheatstraw (Cotton Plant)