Black Diamond Orchestra

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.

New Release! The Music Men of Turn-of-the-Century Fayetteville

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.

Paperback, $19.95. Available at Amazon