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Music of Arkansas

Arkansas is a Southern state of the United States. Arkansas's musical heritage includes country music and various related styles like bluegrass and rockabilly.

State songs

Arkansas has four official state songs:

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3]


Country, bluegrass and 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.

R&B and gospel

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.[4] While Blues is dominated by men, it is the women of Arkansas who have led the way in gospel music. The Brockwell Gospel Music Schoo in Brockwell, Arkansas in Izard County, has been offering a two-week summer course in Gospel music since 1947.[5] 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".[6] Jackson was born and raised in West Memphis. The West Memphis R&B scene was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.[citation needed]

Rock, metal and punk

Rock and roll came to Arkansas in the 1960s when local garage bands began performing at school and other public venues and also recorded commercials for local radio stations. They could record their music at one of several studios around the state. By far, the most famous Arkansas rocker to find fame was Johnny Cash,[citation needed] although he was later much more well known for his country music success than his rock and roll success. 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.[7] In the 1970s and 1980s, Little Rock became the home of a thriving punk and metal scene. This led to a resurgence of successful garage bands. Many achieved limited success as opening acts for national tours. This time period was captured in the 2007 film Towncraft. By far, the most successful rock and roll band to come out of Arkansas in the last 50 years has been Evanescence.[citation needed]

Arkansas's rock and roll scene is served by a free monthly magazine launched by Peter Read on December 8, 1980 called Night Flying.[8]


Arkansas is home to several classical music associations.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1966.[9] 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.[10]

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.

Independent and 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 well-known bands from this time would be multi-platinum-selling rock band Evanescence, which has origins in Little Rock.

The state's local music scene includes bands like American Princes, The See, Rwake, Deadbird, Dreamfast, The Inner Party, Queen Beast, and Fire to Reason. 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 &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'"... The other songs and all tape masters are in private hands. Promoting himself as Tommy Riggs, he performed around the country From St. Louis to Las Vegas before settling down in Nashville, Tennessee and frequently playing at the Stockyards Lounge.

Pop and rock groups today are still around, as well as a few young bands, that play southern styled music, or Christian pop/Christian rock like The Wedding. However, as the trends change, post-hardcore and metalcore bands have popped up left and right. Many bands after the mid 2000s, and currently, have taken refuge in styles like that of Norma Jean and Underoath, while others continue slightly poppy and/or less chaotic acts, similar to Blessthefall and Fear Before the March of Flames. Some have even taken on the Math rock genre, like Burn Baby Burn, and others have added unusual time signatures to their music, and styles like Jazz and Blues to their songwriting. Notably, three of the few screamo/emo groups in Arkansas, Strike the Choir (Monticello, AR) and I Was The Red Wine of 1955 (Warren, AR) and The Fashion Show(Russelville, AR). Most of the bands on the AR scene are made up of underage kids, from high-school to early college days, and is dependent upon these teens and young adults. There is also still a hardcore/punk scene in Arkansas, such as Jungle Juice, Lifer., Rawhead in central AR, and Cowards, and Stick Tight in North West AR. This style is growing fast in the Arkansas music scene.

Though there are many groups that come from hardcore punk backgrounds, there are still bands that have an indie rock appeal, like the long gone Stained Glass Masquerades(Warren, AR), Parashos Parachutes (Monticello/Little Rock, AR), Maybe Next Weekend (Bryant, AR), The Talking Liberties (Little Rock, AR) and This is Jacob (Bryant, AR). Others are pop rock bands, like School Boy Humor(Little Rock, AR) and Alert All Arms (Little Rock, AR). Acoustic bands such as The Truth About Movie Stars (Kylan Savage of Bentonville Arkansas) and The Professor's Umbrella (Nikki Xaysanasy of Springdale Arkansas)originated from Arkansas.

There are also plenty of metal acts in the region ranging from doom metal to alternative metal. Some of these acts include bands such as Pallbearer (Little Rock), Deadspell (Sherwood), Calcabrina (Little Rock), Playing with Karma (Malvern) and Minerva (Little Rock).


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

Famous Musicians from Arkansas


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