Rockabilly exhibit to open at ASU Museum in August

by George Jared ([email protected]) 362 views 

Rock 'n' roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis played at numerous clubs across Arkansas in his early career.

Teens living in the 1950s learned to dip, dive and jive to the raucous, rockabilly sound. Now, one can come and learn all about the music from the region’s back yard at Arkansas State University Museum’s newest exhibit, “Rockabilly! The Northeast Arkansas Story.”

On Thursday, Aug. 15, the ASU Museum teams up with the broadcasting service of A-State, KASU, to celebrate the opening of the newly completed exhibit, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Northeast Arkansas played a significant role in shaping and disseminating rockabilly music, an early form of rock ‘n’ roll most widely associated with Elvis Presley’s debut single, “That’s All Right,” recorded in 1954.

“‘Rockabilly!’ is rich with music, history and visuals that will engage visitors on many levels and perhaps answer questions they may have,” said Dr. Marti Allen, director of the museum.

Listening stations will offer opportunities to hear songs from the region’s many rockabilly musicians, helping visitors understand what made rockabilly special, and how it differed from other musical styles in the pre-rock ‘n’ roll era.

Visitors can discover what musical elements make up rockabilly by isolating and mixing the elements at “that rockabilly sound,” and see how blues, country, gospel and other musical genres contributed to the unique sound of rockabilly.

Those not sure about the difference between blues and rockabilly will want to see “rockabilly or not-a-billy,” officials said. Individuals wanting to know more about rockabilly’s origins can browse through the songs and biographies of rockabillies hailing from the rural areas of 1950s Northeast Arkansas.

Recordings from Sonny Burgess and Larry Donn, are at the museum as well as recordings from lesser known artists. The exhibit will also feature performance instruments used by some of the region’s rockabilly stars and notably significant sound equipment that helped generate the local sound for which Joe Lee’s Variety Recording Studio became famous.

According to Mark Smith, station manager, KASU is proud of its long history of presenting rockabilly music on 91.9 FM and at various events throughout Northeast Arkansas.

After brief remarks, university and city officials will cut the ribbon and officially launch the exhibit. Light refreshments will be served. The exhibit was funded by proceeds from ASU Museum’s 2013 and 2014 Rockabilly Boogiefest concerts, individual donations, the Museum’s own members, and by ASU Museum.

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