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The Arkansas River Blues Society (ARBS), based in Little Rock (Pulaski County), began its life as the Arkansas Blues Connection (ABC) in June 1984 as Arkansas’s first chapter of the National Blues Foundation. Based in Memphis, Tennessee, the National Blues Foundation seeks to “preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of the uniquely American art form.” The Arkansas River Blues Society seeks to preserve the legacy of Arkansas blues and to provide a place for budding musicians to keep the blues alive.
What became the Arkansas River Blues Society began in a Little Rock blues club. A group of local blues enthusiasts—including John Craig, Steve Logan, Jeff Weeden, and Louis Guida—held their first meetings and weekly jam sessions at Marty Cramer’s Delta Blue Note on 2nd Street in June 1984. Beginning in September of that year, the annual ABC Blues Festival opened at Little Rock’s Metro Center Mall. ABC worked with the National Blues Foundation to create the W. C. Handy Awards and the International Blues Challenge. Reportedly, the first of these events, on the famous Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, were staffed by volunteers from Little Rock. Back home, the ABC worked with local radio stations and with college professors teaching courses on the blues at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia (Columbia County). Lectures and performances were presented by members Carroll Dee Bland, CeDell Davis, Leigh Wilson, Walter Liniger, and Sonny Payne of KFFA’s King Biscuit Time radio show. In 1986, the ABC received a grant from the Arkansas Arts Council, and in 1987 it won the W. C. Handy “Keeping the Blues Alive Award” for Blues Society of the Year.
Between 1984 and the mid-1990s, the ABC was reborn as the Arkansas River Blues Society (ARBS). For many years beginning in 1985, the ARBS sent a bi-monthly newsletter to members, other blues societies, radio stations, record companies, and members of the blues industry throughout the world. The ARBS was instrumental in the formation and support of the Tulsa Blues Club, the Little Boy Blues Society in Eureka Springs (Carroll County), the Sonny Boy Blues Society in Helena-West Helena (Phillips County), and the Members Only Blues Club in Texarkana (Miller County).
ARBS played and organized more than twenty shows at the Riverfront Park in downtown Little Rock. The ARBS is governed by a board of directors and is listed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Each December, new officers are elected to serve on the board of directors. It continues to nurture local musicians, hold weekly jam sessions, organize events, and hold an annual talent contest, which sends its winner to perform in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. The ARBS remains part of the National Blues Foundation, and its members regularly attend meetings and conferences nationwide. Membership averages about 150, and members pay annual dues of $15. Every year, the ARBS works with the Arkansas Food Bank to provide non-perishable food items for the homeless and needy families in Little Rock.
For additional information:
Arkansas River Blues Society. http://www.arkansasriverblues.com/ (accessed July 17, 2017).
Blues Foundation. https://blues.org/ (accessed July 17, 2017).
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Last Updated 10/11/2017
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