Florence Price. Photo by G. Nelidoff, courtesy of Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville
The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies and the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture recently published the book, Encyclopedia of Arkansas Music, a comprehensive look at the wide-ranging styles of music that have come out of the state. Including over 150 entries taken from the online Encyclopedia, this anthology edited by Ali Welky and Mike Keckhaver highlights genres of music ranging from blues to opera, and provides detailed information about well-known artists such as Patsy Montana, Al Green, Johnny Cash, and William Grant Still.
Perhaps most importantly, the book is filled with information about Arkansas musicians that don’t typically get as much press, such as Florence Price, a composer from Little Rock who was the first African American female composer to have a symphonic composition performed by a major American symphony. Born in 1887, Price was a music educator who won multiple awards for her work. According to researcher Dan Dykema, “Her musical style is a mixture of classical European music and the sounds of black spirituals, especially the rhythms associated with African heritage, such as the juba dance.” She died in 1953. In 1964, an elementary school in Chicago named itself after her.
Harmonica legend Lonnie Glossen of Judsonia reached fame in the late 1950s but isn’t so well known today. He learned to play the instrument from his mother after purchasing one with money earned from picking cotton. His song “Arkansas Hard Luck Blues” is often cited as an early example of what’s called the “walking blues,” a style popularized by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dyaln. He later recorded songs with the popular Delmore Brothers and had a long-term recording partnership with fellow harmonica player Wayne Rayney of Wolf Bayou, Arkansas. In 1949 they had a big hit with the song, “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me.”
John Michael Talbot began his musical career as a guitarist and singer in a folk rock band called Mason Proffit. They performed with bands such as Grateful Dead, Iron Butterfly, and Fleetwood Mac. But Talbot changed genres after he claimed to have a vision of Christ holding out “tattered monk robes” to him. He bought some land in the Ozark Mountains and eventually started a meditative Catholic community now known as Brothers and Sisters of Charity. In 1982 famous architect E Faye Jones began working on the buildings for the community, creating the Little Portion Hermitage and Motherhouse. Much of the income from the community comes from Talbot’s recordings and his contemporary Christian label, Troubadour for the Lord. He is also the author of many books, including, The Universal Monk: The Way of the New Monastics.
The book is filled with similarly compelling stories of Arkansas musicians, both living and decreased. Next week’s column will highlight some of the genres and music festivals mentioned in the book. You can order the book through the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at www.uapress.com A book release party is scheduled for Thursday September 19th at 5:30 pm at the Butler Center in downtown Little Rock. Everyone is invited to attend. The event will include a raffle for a hand-made cigar box guitar. Visit me online at boileddownjuice.com for more information.
Barbara Price’s Symphony Np. 3 in 3rd Movement
Lonnie Glossen performing “Pan American Blues.”
John Michael Talbot performing “Quiet Reflections.”