The Ark. Entertainers Hall of Fame
Natural Talent in the Natural State
by Ciara Cerrato
Every two years, the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame recognizes and inducts talented Arkansans who have made lasting contributions to the world of art and entertainment. Since the first induction in 1996, seventy-six artists, actors, musicians, and innovators and champions of the entertainment industry have been instated, and in 2013 five more gifted and accomplished individuals will be added to the list.
The Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame Museum is located in the Pine Bluff Convention Center, but past inductions as well as this year’s ceremony will be held in Hot Springs’ Horner Hall in the Hot Springs Convention Center. This year’s inductees are a widely varied group including a lawyer as well as a clown, but they all have their birthplace of the great natural state of Arkansas in common.
Gary Weir, Mike Utley, Bill Carter, Louie Shelton, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe will be inducted this year, and all but the late Sister Rosetta Tharpe will be in attendence at the 2013 induction ceremony. There will be special performances by Mike Utley, the keyboardist for Jimmy Buffet and The Coral Reefers and by session artist Louie Shelton who has recorded with the likes of The Jackson Five and John Lennon.
The public is invited to this historic red carpet event, which will be held June 8. The award reception will start at 6 p.m., dinner will be served at 7:30 p.m., and cocktail attire is suggested. Tickets are available at $75 per person and can be purchased at the Hot Springs Convention Center (501-321-2027) or at hotsprings.org.
For decades, children all over Arkansas grinned and giggled at the antics of Bozo the Clown. Greeted by him after school and on Saturday morning, kids were delighted by the wacky humor of the friendly clown in the blue suit. Weir began playing Bozo on Little Rock’s KATV in 1966, and he soon played the clown all over the state.
Weir has worked in media for much of his life, but when he donned Bozo’s big red wig and floppy shoes, he won over the hearts of young Arkansans. The Bozo Show quickly became the most popular children’s television show in the state. When the show ended after a successful twenty-five year run, Weir continued to clown around on several Arkansas stations and programs.
After Weir finally retired from children’s television, he decided that he would share another passion with the public. Weir has loved and cared for horses for much of his life, and several of his horses have raced at Oaklawn. While most race tracks had replay shows, Hot Springs’ Oaklawn race track did not, so in 1994, Oaklawn decided to ask Weir to host a show because of his television experience and his knowledge and love of the sport. The Oaklawn Report was aired for the first time the following year, and it delighted racing enthusiasts for eighteen years. Being broadcast both regionally and nationally, Weir’s program brought the thrill of Hot Springs thoroughbred horse racing to people all over the nation. Whether with flashy horses or a big red nose, Gary Weir has brought smiles to Arkansans for decades.
When you feel the need for a little rest and relaxation, you can always conjure the easy going mood of a lazy, seaside afternoon, margarita in hand, if a Jimmy Buffet album is playing. Though it seems that Key West and its leisurely, not-a-care-under-the-sun attitude would be far removed from Arkansas, the tropical rhythms of Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band are inspired in part by keyboardist and Arkansas native Mike Utley.
Utley was born in the tiny town of Blytheville, Arkansas, and eventually moved to Fayetteville to study at the University of Arkansas where he also found more musical opportunities. Shortly before graduating with a B.A. in Zoology, Utley did recordings in Memphis with various artists, and after he received his degree, he moved to Memphis to play music professionally.
As Utley worked his way up in the music industry, he began playing in Miami as a backup musician at Criteria Studios. During his time at the studio, he backed artists such as the Allman Brothers and Aretha Franklin to name only a few. His most fateful encounter, however, was with Jerry Jeff Walker because when Jimmy Buffet heard Utley’s work on one of Walker’s albums, he asked Utley to play on A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, Buffet’s first major album.
Since the success of the first album, Utley continued to work with Buffet and eventually became a permanent member of the Coral Reefer Band. Utley has made several albums with Coral Reefer member Robert Greenidge as well. Also a seasoned producer, Utley has produced many albums including Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits as well as eleven Jimmy Buffet albums.
Bill Carter is an Arkansan who has done a little bit of everything. A reading of his resume might require an intermission, and those who do brave the intimidating document might need to suspend some skepticism. Can it really be that one man can do so much? Surely Carter must employ some kind of secret doppelganger to have fulfilled such varied roles like airman, attorney, Secret Service agent, and producer to name only a few. More mind-boggling are the high-profile figures with which he has worked; not many of us in Arkansas can tout a business relationship with The Rolling Stones or the Kennedys. And yes, perhaps most unbelievable of all, Bill Carter really is from Rector, Arkansas.
Somehow, after the Air Force, law school, the Secret Service, and his Little Rock law firm, Carter eventually found himself enmeshed with many music and entertainment giants, and it all began with a big-name arrest in the small town of Fordyce, Arkansas. In 1972, The Rolling Stones had actually been banned from the United States for supposedly causing riots and corrupting America’s youth during their 1972 tour through the states, so of course the very next year the band was back in America and arrested while traveling through Fordyce. Congressman Wilbur Mills called on Carter to help clear up the issue, and the ban was soon revoked. This moment in his legal career set a precedent, and his involvement with American entertainers steadily increased.
The more stars noticed his work, his role with entertainers expanded beyond just legal representation. When Steve McQueen died in Mexico in 1980, and the Mexican government refused to release him for burial in the U.S., it was Bill Carter who brought him home. In 1983, Carter began working for David Bowie and eventually helped orchestrate publishing deals and HBO specials. Since moving his law firm to Nashville, Bill Carter has also represented and managed the likes of Reba McEntire, Waylan Jennings, and Bill Gaither as well as many other famous musicians. For decades Carter has helped musicians and entertainers thrive, and this Arkansas native’s work has since helped shape American entertainment within and without the continent.
You may not have heard his name, but if you have watched television, turned on the radio, or even vaguely have been involved in American culture within the last half of the twentieth century, you have more than likely grooved to the sweet riffs of Louie Shelton. If you aren’t sure whether you have heard him, just peruse your music collection and pick out the best albums you have ever owned, and chances are you will discover you have been listening to and loving Shelton’s work for years. The master session guitarist and producer has worked on a staggering amount of albums – Shelton himself has said he cannot keep up with everything he has done – and a great number of the albums and artists he has worked with are chart-topping and legendary.
The Little Rock native has simply lived for the guitar since he first picked one up at the age of nine, and little did he realize just how important this moment would prove to be. After teaching himself to play and only three years later, twelve-year-old Shelton was featured regularly on Arkansas radio and television stations like KATV and soon became one of the most famous and sought after performers in the south as part of the country band The Dixie Mountaineers. It seems though that teenaged Shelton had a revelation when he watched Elvis Presley perform at his high school. A fire was lit within him, and he expanded his guitar playing into the ground breaking world of blues and rock.
With great passion and dedication, Shelton traveled the country playing and performing with many bands. He worked with artists like Mama Cass and Tiny Tim, but meeting and working with Seals and Crofts brought him new notoriety and opportunities. He soon landed a gig with the new TV series, The Monkees, and wrote “The Last Train to Clarksville” which became a #1 hit. From that point forward, every producer in the industry wanted to meet Mr. Shelton.
Over the next several decades, Louie Shelton recorded with and produced many of the most loved and successful albums ever created. To merely scratch the surface, he is the recorded session guitarist for classics like The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” and “ABC” and Neil Diamond’s “Play Me.” He has also recorded with The Carpenters, Ella Fitzgerald, and John Lennon. Shelton continues to record his own original music as well as produce albums for musicians all over the world.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Cotton Plant, Arkansas is one of the tiny, rural towns that comprises East Arkansas’ Woodruff County. With a population of roughly 650 and an area of about one square mile, it is a mild and modest place. Other than a Civil War skirmish in 1862, things have been mostly quiet in Cotton Plant – except for the birth of rock and roll.
When Rosetta Nubin was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas in 1915, the town, the country, and even the world would never be so quiet again. Now known as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the gospel and rock legend began her musical journey with her mother in the churches in and around Cotton Plant. Her mother played mandolin, and encouraged Tharpe to pick up the guitar at four years of age. The two played in an evangelical traveling troupe. Word of the young prodigy quickly spread as it was rare to hear about southern, black females wailing on the guitar as well as into the microphone. Her passion and virtuosity captivated audiences in the South, so Tharpe and her mother eventually moved to Chicago to pursue a career.
Once in Chicago, Tharpe continued to perform within the religious market, but the move was the beginning of a great change. At first, she was involved with groups tied to the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), but she was urged to expand her career and move to New York. The Big Apple was where Tharpe developed her stage moniker, and in 1938 she was signed to Decca records. Now with Lucky Millinder’s jazz orchestra backing her, her success was instantaneous and her new cross over style was widening and diversifying her fan base.
During the peak of her career, Tharpe performed all over the world and accomplished prestige that few black, female artists–or few artists in general–had experienced. She performed in Carnegie Hall in 1938 and toured with legends such as Cab Calloway. During the 1940s, the U.S. government sent her uplifting music to soldiers overseas to boost their morale. Artists like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan are forever indebted to her for revolutionizing the definition of rock music in America. Her impact on her contemporaries was great, and her successive legacy has largely been preserved in the hearts and souls of the musicians and music lovers who were changed by her.