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Arkansas music

Two great CDs that feature the music of Arkansas have been released.

One comes with the 11th annual Southern music edition of The Oxford American. As always, that issue has a Southern music CD that accompanies the magazine. But there’s something new this year. For the first time, the OA is also including a CD devoted entirely to the music of one state. And that state is Arkansas. You can hear artists ranging from Billy Lee Riley to Carolina Cotton to Maxine Brown on this CD.

There also has just been a CD-DVD set released to promote the Arkansas Delta Music Trail. The artists featured on this CD range from Robert Jr. Lockwood and Sonny Boy Williamson to Al Green and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The Arkansas Delta Music Trail is a joint project of the Rural Heritage Development Initiative, the Arkansas Delta Byways Tourism Promotion Association and Main Street Arkansas.

Let’s start with the OA’s Southern music edition. It’s one of the largest issues ever at 192 pages and the two CDs include 52 songs.

In the words of OA publisher Warwick Sabin: “We are very pleased to inaugurate this new concept (of focusing on a state) by focusing on Arkansas. Besides being our home state, we also feel that Arkansas has never received the attention it deserves for its rich musical history and experience. The Oxford American — with its outstanding reputation and credibility among music experts and music lovers worldwide — is in a unique position to place Arkansas among the vanguard of musical heritage sites.”

As the chairman of the magazine’s board of directors, I must note that this special Arkansas CD and the section on Arkansas in the magazine would not have been possible without the support of the state Department of Parks and Tourism, the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas and Tyson Foods. To my friends — Richard Davies and Joe David Rice at Parks and Tourism; Doug White, Kirkley Thomas and Carmie Henry at the Electric Cooperatives; and Archie Schaffer at Tyson — I want to say “thank you.” These are people who care deeply about the history and culture of our state.

Richard Davies and his associates at the Parks and Tourism Department continue to do a great job promoting mountain music at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View. Meanwhile, the folks at the Department of Arkansas Heritage do a fine job over at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena-West Helena promoting the music heritage of east Arkansas.

The OA’s annual Southern music issue has won two National Music Awards and numerous other honors since the first music issue came out in 1999. The New York Times once wrote: “The Oxford American may be the liveliest literary magazine in America. … The CDs are so smart and eclectic they probably belong in the Smithsonian.”

If you don’t have an OA subscription, the music issue hit the newsstands this week. Also, take time to check out the magazine’s great website at

Meanwhile, the Delta Music Trail project is being coordinated by one of my favorite people in Arkansas, Beth Wiedower. Beth, a Little Rock native and Hendrix graduate, is a preservationist who moved to Helena-West Helena in 2006 to head up the Rural Heritage Development Initiative for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Another of Beth’s projects is a website — — that allows you to purchase items from food suppliers, artists and others. You should check the site out as you begin to buy your Christmas gifts.

The Rural Heritage Development Initiative covers 15 Arkansas counties and focuses on preservation-based economic development. The program operates on a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and partners with the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, Arkansas Delta Byways, Main Street Arkansas and the Main Street programs of Blytheville, Dumas, Helena-West Helena, Osceola and West Memphis. The initiative is involved in heritage tourism, local business development, preservation education, landmark preservation and branding efforts.

The Arkansas Delta Music Trail follows the Great River Road and the Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, both national scenic byways. Beth says those traveling through the region can “listen live to the daily ‘King Biscuit Time’ radio broadcast in downtown Helena at the Delta Cultural Center, hear Louis Jordan’s alto sax playing at the Central Delta Depot in downtown Brinkley, listen to the ‘voice of southeast Arkansas’ at KVSA in McGehee and visit Twist, where B.B. King ran back into a burning juke joint to save his beloved Lucille, the fabled guitar everyone now knows by name.”

The Delta Music Trail CD/DVD package is available by calling (870) 972-2803. The 15 Arkansas counties included in the trail are Clay, Greene, Craighead, Mississippi, Poinsett, Cross, Crittenden, St. Francis, Lee, Monroe, Phillips, Arkansas, Desha, Drew and Chicot.

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