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Museum to Host Grand Opening of 'Rockabilly' Exhibit


JONESBORO – 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 that grew up in our back yard at Arkansas State University Museum’s newest exhibit, "Rockabilly! The Northeast Arkansas Story."

On Thursday, Aug. 15, 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," stated Dr. Marti Allen, director of the museum.

Listening stations will offer opportunities to hear songs from this 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.”  Individuals wanting to know more about rockabilly's origins can browse through the toe-tapping songs and highly relatable biographies of rockabillies hailing from the rural areas of 1950s Northeast Arkansas.

Visitors will recognize the music of stars like the late Sonny Burgess and Larry Donn, and encounter names they may have forgotten about or never heard before.

The exhibit will also feature performance instruments used by some of our 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.

Early bird guests will enjoy warming up to live music by Rockin’ Luke Stroud, presented by radio station KASU. 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 at 5:45, university and city officials will cut the ribbon and officially launch the exhibit.  Light refreshments will be served.

This 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.

" 'Rockabilly! The Northeast Arkansas Story' is about us, for us, and by us. Join us,” Allen added.

For more details, one may contact Jill Kary, curator of education, jkary@astate.edu or (870) 972-2074.

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Sonny Burgess in 2013
Sonny Burgess performs at Rockabilly Boogiefest in 2013.  The 2014 Rockabilly Boogiefest, where he also performed, was dedicated to him.