In recent years, Arkansas has become synonymous with President William Jefferson Clinton and the Razorbacks. But, who knew Arkansas was also native home to several of the greatest country music and folk artists in history? Check out this who’s who of Arkansas country music and folk greats. Sure to surprise and delight country music and folk fans everywhere.
Johnny Cash (1932-2003). Celebrated singer songwriter Johnny Cash’s career spanned every musical genre, from gospel, country and folk to rockabilly, the blues and rock and roll. Just about every band around the world has covered a Johnny Cash song, even Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, if you can believe. Born in Kingsland but raised in Dyess, Arkansas this legendary bass-baritone went onto make country music history with his songs of love, loss, life on the run, and redemption. Cash’s troubled life and musical genius was depicted in the Academy Award winning film, Walk the Line, starring actors Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Ring of Fire (1963), Boy Named Sue (1969) and Delia’s Gone (1994) count among his many hit singles. I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends out for the tie that binds. Because you’re mine, I walk the line (Walk the Line).
Conway Twitty (1933-1993) is among country music’s legends. While born in Mississippi, Twitty long called Helena, Arkansas home. Before long, Conway Twitty’s music topped the charts, earning him induction into the Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame and Rockabilly Hall of Fame. For many years, he held the record for the most No. 1 singles (until country music’s George Strait broke his record in 2006.) Twitty was heralded for his hit songs and lovely duets with Loretta Lynn.It’s Only Make Believe (1958) and Danny Boy (1959) are just two of his hit singles. Now high on the mountain where the wild flowers grow There’s nothing but mem’ries of my wild mountain Rose (Wild Mountain Rose).
Glen Campbell (1936-) won just about every award there is for his songs and music. Best known for his television variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS, Glen Campbell’s songs topped the charts making him one of the most celebrated American singer songwriters in country music history. Born and raised in Billstown, Arkansas in Pike County, Campbell’s hits include Gentle on My Mind and By the Time I Get to Phoenix (1967), Wichita Lineman and Galveston (1968), Southern Nights (1977), and Rhinestone Cowboy(1975). Over the years, Campbell has struggled with alcohol and the byproduct of fame. Well into his career and third marriage, he had a stormy affair with country music star Tanya Tucker who was twenty years his junior. Campbell now lives in Malibu with his wife and three children, plays golf, plays Branson and tours with daughter Debby. I am a lineman for the county. And I drive the mainroad. Lookin’ in the sun for another overload. (Wichita Lineman).
Iris DeMent (1961-). Contemporary country folk artist Iris DeMent also calls Arkansas her native home. Her one-of-a-kind vocals provides just the right touch in her collaborations with country folk legends coast-to-coast. Her duets with John Prine are priceless, especially notable In Spite of Ourselves which has become an anthem on love, marriage and growing old together. While Iris DeMent finds the world is her stage, her Paragould, Arkansas country folk roots can still be heard in her music and lyrics. DeMent is married to singer songwriter Greg Brown and lives with her family in the Midwest. The wheels of love turn around and around They’ll take you for a ride like a merry-go-round Don’t let the heartache hold you down (Wheels of Love).
Jimmy Driftwood (1907-1998). Born James Corbitt Morris, Jimmy Driftwood is best known for writing The Battle of New Orleans (1958) and Tennessee Stud (1953). Born in Timbo, Arkansas, the prolific Driftwood would later write more than 6000 folk songs, hundreds of which were covered and recorded by America’s leading country and folk artists. Arkansas’ Driftwood inspired the founding of the Ozark Folk Center to preserve Ozark Mountain arts and culture. Later taken over by the Arkansas State Park system, Ozark Folk Center remains a must-see tourist stop. We fired our guns and the British kept a’comin. But there wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago. We fired once more and they began to runnin’ down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. (The Battle of New Orleans).
Patsy Montana (1908-1996) or Ruby Rose Blevins, was born in Beaudry, Arkansas and raised in Hope (not too far from Former President Bill Clinton’s old stomping grounds.) Montana went on to become the first female country artist to sell a million copies of her hit single I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart (1935), ensuring her a special place in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Long after Patsy Montana’s death, today’s stars continue to cover this hit song, including Leann Rimes and The Dixie Chicks. I wanna feel the wind in my face, A thousand miles away from all (I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart).
Official Website – Glen Campbell
Official Website – Johnny Cash
Official Website – Iris DeMent
Jimmy Driftwood Legacy Project
Official Website – Conway Twitty
County Music Hall of Fame
Country Music Television
Cash, Johnny. Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975.
Cash, Johnny, The Man in White, 1986.
Cash, Johnny, with Patrick Carr. Cash: The Autobiography. New York: Harper Collins, 1997.
Official Site – Arkansas