ASU Museum is proud to announce that a new, permanent exhibition celebrating the Northeast Arkansas story of Rockabilly is now in development. Entitled Rockabilly! The Northeast Arkansas Story of a Music Sensation, the exhibition will appeal to people of all ages and give due homage to our region's role in the rise and dissemination of this intriguing style of nascent Rock 'n' Roll.
The distinctive genre of music known as Rockabilly got its start at the intersection of Rhythm & Blues (R&B) and Country. During the 1950s, many musicians and songwriters from Northeast Arkansas rose to stardom on the Rockabilly banner, including Johnny Cash, Sonny Burgess, Bobby Lee Trammell, Billy Lee Riley, Conway Twitty, Charlie Rich and Larry Donn Gillihan. Even Elvis and other stars working with Sun and Fernwood Studios in Memphis, Tennessee crossed the Mississippi to air their works on Arkansas radio and perform live in dozens of small clubs and taverns along U.S. 67--now designated the "Rock 'n' Roll Highway" (Arkansas's Act 497, 2009).
Most of the hole-in-the-wall juke joints where the story of Rockabilly unfolded no longer exist, making it hard for Arkansans to tell their story. Rockabilly! will provide a tangible stopping place that fills in the missing history, explores its bi-racial origins, and shows how Rockabilly skyrocketed into a music sensation in little Arkansas towns like Newport, Bono, Paragould, and Trumann and persisted long after the heyday of the style. Situated in a dry county and cut off from the musical hub in the Delta due to the lack of highway access through the marshy Sunken Lands, Jonesboro was not on the juke joint circuit. Yet, Jonesboro played an intriguing role in the Northeast Arkansas Rockabilly story. Many musicians got their first break from Joe Lee in his Jonesboro studio (Variety Recording Studio), remnants of which survive in the heart of Jonesboro.
The story of Rockabilly is huge, reaching beyond Arkansas, out of the past, and right into the hearts and minds of present day Americans. Rockabilly leads us to contemplate some of the most difficult issues in America's social history. The exhibition will follow the emergence and dissemination of Rockabilly music through it turbulent historical context in the post-WWII American South. The agrarian base that supported much of rural tradition and culture was under siege, sparking a massive rural-urban migration. Racial divisions were breaking down, threatening long established norms of segregation. Many people were worried by changes they perceived as immoral, unnatural, and unpatriotic. At the center was fear--fear of what was becoming of teenagers and of youth in general, too many of whom did not dutifully accept established norms and who were overly engrossed with fashion, leisure, and cars. The modern American teenager had been born--and lives still, rebelling with every generation.
The Rockabilly! exhibition will include push-button interpretive audio, life-size photomurals of Rockabilly musicians from Northeast Arkansas along with their biographies and best known works, original artifacts, footage of authentic Rockabilly dancing, and hands-on learning stations for kids and families. This exhibition will occupy approximately 600 square feet of the Museum's prime, centermost exhibit space and thereby constitute one of the largest exhibits in the Museum. This will be a permanent exhibit, open free to the public.
Pending funding, this exhibition will open in mid-2017.