In 2019, Fayetteville, Arkansas found itself named among the top three American cities for live music, placing third after Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana. In this history of Fayetteville’s nightspots and musicians, we celebrate the ancient human tradition of music and dance. These were – and still are – the places where live music finds its most enthusiastic audience, where musicians practice a craft as old as time, where the drumbeat and lyrical voice travel straight to the heart.
Among the hundreds of start-up bands pursuing their moment in the spotlight, some of Fayetteville’s bands and musicians have gone on to national, even international fame. Standing behind these musicians are the promoters, nightclubs, and rehearsal spaces that supported and encouraged them.
Perhaps more importantly, a steady stream of new talent, new sounds, new ideas attract passionate new audiences to join in the good times. How can this be? What strange cocktail of talent and public appreciation come together here to produce such a rich legacy of irresistible music and the places and professionals who enable its existence? Only a historical view of this Ozark city, its musical artists, and its creative commons can begin to illustrate the full picture.
The Black Diamond Orchestra first appeared in Fayetteville’s entertainment venues in 1903. They would continue to enjoy bookings in a wide variety of programs for the next thirty years, one of the longest running local talents in the town’s history. Even more remarkable, this entity rose from the depths of the “Holler,” otherwise known as Tin Cup, where the majority of Fayetteville’s Black population lived.
Engagements for the orchestra over the next several years included private parties and receptions as well as bookings by the Shamrock Club, White Chapel Club, and other civic and university entities. By 1911, the group had become a featured event at gatherings such as a Kappa Sigma fraternity dance and a celebration at Fern Dells, “the handsome country home of Mr. and Mrs. W. L. Stuckey on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of their marriage. Over 300 guests were “allowed perfect liberty of choice in the viands [and] left likewise free to choose the place he was to sit and partake of them while listening to the strains of the Black Diamond Orchestra … After the last guests had been served the orchestra was removed from the basement to the stair landing of the big hall where music was furnished throughout the evening and dancing was indulged in by the young and old…”
In September 1924, the University of Arkansas’ new radio station KFMQ featured the Black Diamonds asking listeners to send postcards if they heard the broadcast. “Weeks later, the Fayetteville Democrat reported that the station received postcards from listeners as far away as Canada, New Mexico, and Washington D.C.”
“Colored programs are becoming quite the thing in Fayetteville, with an aroused interest in negro music and African folk-lore. On Friday night a colored troop of entertainers including a local celebrity, E. Young, formerly end–man with Field’s Minstrels when that company had colored end-men, will give an entertainment at Peabody Hall, University of Arkansas, as joint colored church and white school benefit. The Leverett school PTA is sponsoring the event, featuring Black Diamond Orchestra.”
Much more about the celebrated Black Diamond Orchestra and its personnel in The Music Men of Turn-of-the-Century Fayetteville, available in paperback for $19.95.
Owen Mitchell started teaching music when he was seven years old. A neighborhood boy wanted to learn to play so Owen shared what he knew. That was 1892. He would go on to become the first jazz band leader in Fayetteville. … In increasing demand, the Owen Mitchell Orchestra performed for dances across the region to audiences eager to break out of the war years’ gloom and embrace the new styles of music and dance. The band was among the first to be heard on the new University radio station, KFMQ, in 1924. By January 1925, Mitchell’s radio programming split fifty-fifty between fox trots and waltzes.
… In a lengthy 1949 article in the Northwest Arkansas Times, reporter Doug Jones provided an overview of the local music scene.
“…What I’m talking about are the guys that have and are still living in and around Fayetteville that plenty of local citizens have heard about. All in all, there has been a lot of pretty good music produced in this area, homegrown and home-consumed.
“To those who have followed music, there have been trends in this town reflecting the jazz of the whole country. There might be a few raised eyebrows when I say jazz, but that’s what it was and still is. Jazz music is the basic foundation for all native American popular music. Even more important, to those who haven’t heard, jazz is the only original art form this country has produced. Everything else, Europe or China did first. But jazz is ours, and more and more it is becoming recognized by critics as a true art form.”
From Chapter 3, The Music Men of Turn-of-the-Century Fayetteville, available in paperback at Amazon. $19.95
Henry Doughty Tovey will always be best known as the composer of the music for the University of Arkansas Alma Mater. For everyone who ever attended school there or came to University events like football games, the melodic strains and rich harmonies of that song evoke deeply-felt memories. Without question, Tovey had tremendous musical talent. But that was only a hint at what this man would give to the university, the town of Fayetteville and yes, even the State of Arkansas over the twenty-seven years of his life here.
…Tovey spent the summer of 1909 with friends in Chicago where he discovered the latest version of the Victor gramophone. He immediately purchased one along with a large number of recordings of standard operas including performances by world-famous tenor Enrico Caruso… The gramophone came to serve a key role in Tovey’s grand scheme to offer music education throughout the entire state. Ultimately, his concept caught fire across the nation and even in other places around the world. … Tovey’s growing reputation regarding this teaching method resulted in an article about him published in The Musician, the national journal of music instructors… “The address by Henry Doughty Tovey of the University of Arkansas, which we give in this issue in part, is highly interesting in the demonstration it makes of the wonderful educational power of the talking machine and because it presents such a practical way of working out results. In his plan there is suggestion for every music teacher, for he can use the talking machine in the home and suggest selection of records, and this will have splendid educational results both on the pupil and the entire home.”
…In April 1917, Tovey received notice from Schirmer’s of New York City that their new book, “Energy of American Crowd Music,” would include a chapter about Tovey and his work. No record of this book has been found, but an article thus entitled stated in the preface that “everything we see hear, feel, experience in any way becomes subject matter for music, poetry, painting and sculpture. The things seen and heard in Kentucky or New England or the Ozarks become material for us…”
Much more about this trailblazer in The Music Men of Turn-of-the-Century Fayetteville. Available in paperback, $19.95.
The question of when and how Frank Barr picked up a cornet and learned to play remains unanswered in the mists of time. Yet at the age of eighteen as a student at the University of Arkansas in 1892, this young man not only played but would soon become the bandleader for the University Cadet Band. He would go on to direct the University band for twenty years as well as recruiting youth for “Barr’s Boys Band” through the 1930s. But these were not Frank Barr’s only contribution to the community of Fayetteville and the surrounding region…
…[In 1921] The Elks Club, of which he was a member, agreed to start raising sufficient funds to pay a director and “give Fayetteville boys and men an opportunity to learn to play as well as to have a band ready for the many celebrations and events which a band is needed.” A month later, the Elks announced subscriptions of over $100 per month to finance the band. Barr’s salary would be $75 per month. The Knights of Pythias agreed that they and other lodges about town would be contributors. Barr offered several band instruments he owned which could be used, and County Judge Ernest Dowell consented to the use of the basement of the courthouse for evening rehearsals.
…[In a letter to the editor, 1928] “First, if you will excuse me, I’ll say most of my life has been spent in the entertainment business. At the age of fourteen years, I started teaching bands, and almost continuously since that time, I have been taking bands to picnics, reunions, playing for fairs here, and years ago I played for several fairs held at Rogers and Berryville. For three seasons I managed a Chautauqua here. For 11 years I ran a picture show in Fayetteville and during that time had shows in 14 different towns in Northwest Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. I merely give this to show that if anyone is in a position to know what the public as a whole want in the line of entertainment, I am.”
As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, the world of entertainment experienced a massive shift. The invention of electronic media—radio, recordings, movies—brought music to remote homes and new audiences. Sweeping Fayetteville, Arkansas, and its outlying areas before its new wave, the familiar sounds of minstrels and brass bands soon made room for opera, jazz, and the Roaring Twenties.
Key to these transformations were three men and an innovation in the Black community, each taken singly in these chapters. Frank Barr spanned the days of military brass bands to the innovation of his boys’ band that performed soundtracks for silent movies. Henry Tovey, an import from the conservatories of Illinois, took the University of Arkansas fine arts program to unexpected fame. Owen Mitchell, a musician of unusual talent, embraced jazz and led one of the area’s most popular swing bands. Finally, the Black Diamond Orchestra rose from the heart of Fayetteville’s Black community to popular acclaim across the region.
The world of entertainment enjoyed by so many today grew from these roots, from the talented few who generously shared their knowledge and passion and gave music a future of unexpected and thrilling potential.
This morning a friend commented on Facebook that he’d received a treasured gift for Christmas, a re-issued vinyl of the original Getz/Gilberto 1964 album that included the ever-stunning “Girl from Ipanema.” I was immediately sent hurtling back to my high school years in a small Oklahoma town (1964-1966) where, after classes, I worked at a music store and performed various tasks out front as well as teaching guitar lessons to various motivated pupils.
One day while I dusted store shelves, the manager set that particular album on the stereo. When that song came up, I couldn’t move. The music and lyrics filled me with wonder and emotion.
So it was that in the late spring of 1966 in preparing for the annual senior event where most of the graduating class were expected to perform in some way or another, this song sprang instantly to my mind. I had hummed it, sang it to myself in the mirror, and couldn’t get it out of my head. I was an experienced vocalist, having performed in the select choir as well as Allstate Choir in addition to a trio of me (on guitar) and two other females (tambourine, banjo) who sang folks ballads of the day for civic luncheons and other similar events.
A collaboration quickly developed between me and my high school sweetheart Bill, a performer in his own right on percussion as well as modern dance. I labored hard and long to transcribe the recording into written music for a piano accompaniment as there was no sheet music available, but the transitions in the piece evaded me entirely, and so I determined to sing acapella with only rhythm instruments. Bill planned to ‘hoof it,’ as he said, making it up as he went along. We rehearsed together once.
Our duet, as it were, presented me in a slim pale blue sheath at one corner of the stage singing my husky rendition of Astrud Gilberto’s song at the microphone while, in black tights and leotard, Bill danced his evocative modern style along the shadowy blue footlights. At the brick back wall where we’d pulled back the curtains, three of our musical classmates, also in black, carried the rhythm of the piece with claves, maracas, and guiro while perched at various position on a tall platform ladder.
A few notes into the song, the packed house became dead silent. They all knew the history of the relationship between me and Bill, a passionate on-again, off-again torment that had been no secret among our 300-odd classmates. We’d been voted “Most Talented” in our graduating class, and that acknowledgement seemed to require that we surpass anything we’d previously accomplished.
And it felt like we did. My naturally low-pitched voice perfectly suited the song, and Bill’s lithely muscled body moved in exact response to the lyrics. We had changed the lyrics to make the song about the ‘boy’ from Ipanema…
Tall and tan and young and handsome The boy from Ipanema goes walking And when he passes, each one he passes Goes “A-a-a-h” When he walks he’s like a samba That swings so cool and sways so gentle That when he passes, each one he passes Goes “A-a-a-h” Oh, but I watch him so sadly How can I tell him I love him Yes, I would give my heart gladly But each day as he walks to the sea He looks straight ahead, not at me Tall and tan and young and handsome The boy from Ipanema goes walking And when he passes, I smile, but he Doesn’t see. He just doesn’t see No, he just doesn’t see…
As Bill moved across the stage, strutting and sauntering to fit the lyrics, I whispered my love song as if nothing existed but the two of us. I hit the notes perfectly as his movements gave visual fulfilment of the lyrics. It was, for both of us, a moment of unrestrained joy.
At the last fading breath of my voice, as Bill’s body slowly became immobile in the footlights, a long extended moment of silence filled that auditorium. I thought briefly that somehow we had failed in the execution of our performance, that my voice or his dance had been unworthy of the audience. Then, as if waking from a dream, the applause came thundering down, whistles and shouts and calls that exceeded any response to any of the countless times either of us had given ourselves to a song or dance. We had two curtain calls after which I simply refused to go back out for another.
All these years later, that experience lives on in my memory. I suspect it lives on in Bill’s as well, but within a few years of graduation, he landed in New York where he pursued his talents on Broadway with the fortuitous experience of working with Bob Fosse and performing in The Most Happy Fella, A Chorus Line, Cabaret, Rags, Dancin’, and Sweet Charity. to name a few. I, on the other hand, left my stage presence behind and ended up a back-to-the-land wife and mother of three in a thirty-year career as a piano tuner/technician, somehow feeling better suited to working behind the scenes.
For me, the song remains a highly emotional experience and a high point in my high school years. Singing in that style suited me whereas all the voice lessons and choral performances had pushed a more operatic style, which I did not enjoy. I’m still proud of myself for stepping outside the expected boundaries of my music education and daring to break new ground. I suspect Bill feels the same in breaking away from tap and ballet. Although we’ve had infrequent contact over the years, we’ve never discussed that event, as if somehow any remembrance would tarnish the glow we both felt.
And that’s perhaps best, since there is nothing either of us could say that would make the memory any more perfect. Just as the song as preserved forever on that slip of black vinyl would not be made any more perfect. It was a moment in time.
As chronicled in the massive history of Fayetteville’s music scene, the 1970s overflowed with great music that echoed down the length of Dickson Street. The Charles Tuberville Band was among them.
Charles Tuberville Band
Charles Tuberville became hooked on the guitar after watching an older cousin plug his “machine” into an amp and began playing a song by The Ventures. Then when The Beatles took rock n’ roll by storm, that changed everything. Charles got his first guitar, an electric Harmony Bobcat, for Christmas in the 7th grade. “‘At the time, I was playing trumpet in the school band. The day I got my electric guitar, that trumpet never again came out of the case,’’ he recalled in an interview for Blues News.
His Fayetteville band formed in the early 1970s and played popular clubs like Notchy’s and The Library. In 1976 when the Brass Monkey took over the former Gaslight space in the basement of the Mountain Inn Annex, the Charles Tuberville Band served as the house band. Members of this powerhouse group were Charles Tuberville and Billy Osteen (Cal Jackson still in Memphis) on guitar; Albert Singleton then later Cherry Brooks, vocals; Lance Womack, drums; Jimmy Smith, keyboards; Jim Sweeney (Tulsa), Joe Ellis, bass. Members of this band later appeared in other groups. Charles Tuberville moved to Tulsa in 1979 and went on to ply his guitar craft in multiple formats, performing on an album with Tulsa musician Jimmy Markham including Get Ya’ Head Right (2018) and producing his own album, Somethin’ in the Water in 2019.
Don’t miss these great stories of creativity, ambition, and craziness that permeates the 550+ pages of GOOD TIMES: A History of Nightspots and Live Music in Fayetteville, Arkansas — available at Amazon.com and the local Washington County Historical Society offices.
 Bill Martin, “Charles Tuberville,” Blues News, Sept/Oct 2019, p. 3
This photo reminds me of my dad Floyd Pitts who would sometimes reminisce about his younger days when he was still in high school at Morrow, Arkansas. He’d tell part of this tale then slap his leg and start laughing.
During that period of his life – early 1930s – his parents and younger sister had to move to West Memphis where his dad found work. Floyd stayed at Morrow to finish high school. He slept on a cot at the Morrow Mercantile with duties to keep the fires going at night so the stock didn’t freeze. Alongside his work duties and high school classes, he and three friends performed around the Northwest Arkansas region as a quartet.
“By 1933, I was the leader of the Morrow Quartet (I played fiddle and sang bass) and we were the best in the whole area. We sang at anything. We’d put on a show at places like the Savoy Community Building, we sang on the radio all the time, KUOA, Voice of the Ozarks [then located in the Washington Hotel on the southwest corner of the Fayetteville square, Mountain and Block], any old breakdown tunes.
“It was a novelty for a boy to play the piano. People would take us home for dinner if we’d perform. Jim Latta was the father of one of the singers—the lead, Vernon Latta. He’d help us out buying gas. Vernon played guitar and mandolin. Or the Morrow Mercantile would help us because of Dennis Carmack, the tenor of our group. There were four main guys who owned the Mercantile: Ernest Ball, Lowrey Carmack, __ Reed, and [can’t remember]. Ty Reed sang alto (high tenor). I played fiddle and Dennis Carmack played guitar.
“Dennis had an old Chevrolet and that’s how we got to Fayetteville for our weekly radio show. One time we were running late. There was a railroad crossing at the turn off from the Cane Hill Road to the main highway just east of Lincoln. We heard the whistle and as we roared up to the crossing, we could see the train coming. Trains were long in those days, usually pulling an endless string of freight cars. We knew we’d miss our broadcast time if we waited for the train.
“The train was barreling down, close, too close, to the crossing. There wasn’t time to discuss it. Dennis floored that old Chevy. The engineer laid on his whistle as we hurtled ahead throwing up a huge dust cloud behind us. We could see the engineer’s mouth moving as we approached. He was shaking his fist at us.
“We flew over those tracks without a second to spare. The force of that train as it passed behind us shook the car. As we made the sharp turn just after crossing the tracks, that old car went up on two wheels. We all leaned to the right, laughing at our near miss as the car slammed back onto all four tires. We made it to the Fayetteville Square in time for our show.”
Floyd Pitts went on to gain his bachelor’s degree in music at Northeastern State University at Tahlequah, Oklahoma, then taught music at Rogers AR public schools until his service as an officer in the U. S. Navy in World War II. After the war, he gained a master’s degree in music at Iowa before returning to Rogers to teach. He took over the band man post for the Grizzly band at Fort Smith’s high school in 1953. During his time at Fort Smith, he moonlighted in vocals and piano with a dance band that played local venues like the Elks Club. In January 1957, he proudly led his band in the Washington D.C. parade for Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration.
In 1958 in search of better income, he moved his family to Miami, Oklahoma to lead the music programs for the public schools and direct the junior high and high school bands. During those years, he pursued after-hours income by tuning and repairing pianos, something he’d done since his high school days when he’d teach shape note singing at schools and church houses around the area and inevitably encountered out-of-tune pianos. His father, a sometimes blacksmith, forged Floyd’s first tuning hammer from an old Model A tie-rod.
Floyd remained the Wardog band director at Miami until 1967, when the family once again relocated to Fayetteville, Arkansas. (His wife, Carmyn Morrow Pitts, was relieved to be back in “God’s country.”) From there, Floyd taught band a couple of years at Westville, OK and for many more years at Lincoln AR, more or less a return to his roots at the end of his long career in teaching music to multiple generations. He retired in 1979 but continued his new career as a full time piano tuner/technician alongside his daughter Denele until a couple of years before his death in 2004. Even in his last days, a good old fiddle tune would bring on a flurry of foot tapping.
Side note: KUOA began as a project of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, using these call letters starting in 1926. With the deepening of the Great Depression, in 1931 the University decided to lease operations to out of town interests. “Members of the Fulbright family then formed KUOA, Incorporated, to purchase the station, and on April 1, 1933, they took control, with Roberta Waugh Fulbright as president, John Clark as secretary-treasurer, and daughters Roberta Fulbright as station manager and Helen Fulbright as vice president.” Ownership of the station shifted to John Brown University in 1936.
“You missed your calling,” a friend recently commented.
I had shared a video of “It’s All About That Bass” for her to see. I thought it was fun. I was especially tickled by the clarinet part. I’m weird that way. But I think her point of reference was the lead singer whose gyrating performance in her leopard skin dress apparently made my friend think this was what I wanted her to see.
The truth is, I could have been a singer. My dad, forever the music teacher, started me on piano in second grade and on clarinet in fifth. By seventh grade, he set me down for grueling hours of learning how to sing harmony. I taught myself guitar in tenth grade and began teaching guitar lessons the next year, a pursuit that involved strumming chords while singing.
That was the popular music genre of the times. 1964, 1965. Folk music. I joined with two other classmates to perform popular songs of the time – “Blowing in Wind,” “The Water is Wide,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “Turn Around,” and others including “Hang on the Bell, Nellie,” which always brought down the house. We called ourselves “The Other Side of Apathy.” We were in high school, performing largely for local civic group luncheons and banquets.
My vocal talents won me a slot in All-State Choir both junior and senior years, and of course I performed in the high school chorale. My dad signed me up for private lessons with a voice teacher at the local junior college. Those lessons nearly ruined me. As far as the instructor was concerned, the only legitimate vocal performance was in opera. I loathed that bellowing warble I was supposed to produce from my diaphragm. I quit the lessons.
Despite the off again, on again nature of my fraught relationship with Bill, my high school sweetheart, we maintained our strongest bond in music. In my dad’s high school band room, Bill played drums and I, by ninth grade, played oboe. But in marching band, I set the oboe aside and picked up cymbals. At halftime shows and marching band contests, Bill and I were only a couple of positions apart on the field. We marched to “Semper Fidelis,” “National Emblem,” “Washington Post” and other popular marches, one hundred strong, our formations geometric. My dad the Navy man would have none of that wimpy popular music of the day with majorettes prancing out front while the band stood still.
But I digress.
Bill and I were voted the most talented of our class. So we felt especially obligated to sparkle at the senior program. That tradition of our school included skits, speeches, and performances of all kinds to cap off our public school years. There was no question that Bill and I would do something musical, although Bill had also continued to pursue his talents in dance. We didn’t rule out some combination.
By this time my daily guitar teaching lessons at the local music store had brought me in contact with the front lines of popular music. I had embraced Beatle mania, enjoyed Streisand’s songs, and knew some of the forbidden rock and roll like “House of the Rising Sun.” But it was “Girl From Ipanema” that had won my heart.
Bill and I worked out a performance that put me standing at a microphone at the front left corner of the stage. Bill’s part was to dance along the footlights in an improv jazz style. Behind us against the back curtain, a tall stepladder held three guys playing claves, maracas, and guiro.
I did my best to transcribe the music so we could recruit appropriate accompaniment, but the record I had of Astrid Gilberto and Stan Getz didn’t offer an easy transcription. I couldn’t find any sheet music, so I winged it a capella with just the rhythm section. We had maybe three rehearsals in between senior prom, drunken escapades on the lake where I managed to get strep throat, and performing my solo in part of Hayden’s Mass in G (choir concert) – with strep throat.
In preparation for our performance of “Girl From Ipanema,” I rewrote the lyrics to “Boy From Ipanema.” I would sing about Bill. Always without much money, I pawed through our household collection of patterns and fabrics and settled on thin pale blue cotton for a dress with a bloused sleeveless top and long straight skirt split up the side. I wore my hair straight and long. For his part, Bill wore black tights, leotard, and fedora.
When the curtain opened, a blue spotlight found me. Bill danced in blue footlights. The packed house went utterly silent as I breathed the song into the microphone. The song told the story. Bill performed perfectly. I sang it without a hitch. When the last note faded and Bill’s proud dance had melted to a close, there was dead silence. And then they shouted the house down. (Sadly, there are no photos of this event.)
This was the high point of my career as a chanteuse. Bill went on to a notable career on Broadway. I thought of a profession singing in smoky lounges out front of a jazz combo. I perfected my Greta Garbo poses, practiced exhaling cigarette smoke through my nostrils. Alas, I had no clue how to break in to that world from my mid-South innocence.
College for me depended on a scholarship and the ratio of singers to oboe players is probably at least 100 to 1. With an oboe scholarship, there was no time for choir. Besides, the only formal training for vocalists at the time – and largely still today – was o p e r a.
My father discouraged any idea of a career as a professional singer. He described the touring circuit of rundown lounges and loud drunken audiences, often with minimal pay. He didn’t fully describe the sexual harassment that comes with the scene, or the need to maintain a coherent group of musicians willing to forego intoxication and other hazards of touring. He thought I wanted a husband and children, and I did.
But I also wanted to be a chanteuse. Later, as my kids grew up, I’d pound out my own piano accompaniment to give full throat attention to song collections by the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and other favorites, but the ones that thrilled me the most were the torch songs like “Scotch and Soda.” I also sang with regional community choirs in the 1980s and ‘90s but by the mid ‘90s, I noticed my voice wasn’t exactly as controlled or clear as I wanted. I felt embarrassed and stopped participating in the choir.
Then a couple of surgeries involved tubes down my throat and I discovered my singing broke in critical places around Middle C. And I had long since lost my guitar. By the time I retired from what had become a 30-year career tuning pianos, I was so burned out I never wanted to see another piano and moved mine to a back bedroom.
The piano sits, untuned and untouched by me for over decade. On occasion when I am unable to resist the urge, I’ll drag out the stool for the old pump organ my dad restored and plod along with a few pieces trying to ignore the deplorable condition of my voice. Sadly, the voice is not a lifelong instrument for most of us, although at times I think I might buy another guitar and start practicing in the belief that I just need to start exercising those vocal cords. I still long to sing, and nothing brings that to mind more strongly than to hear a voice slamming through a song like the lady in “All About That Bass.”