Breaking the concert color line 

Jim Porter and I have been friends for a long time mostly because we like jazz and can’t stand rock, rap, hip-hop, gangsta, etc., which is what you hear these days on the radio. Porter is one of the 15 elected members of the Pulaski County Quorum Court. He made a living by working for his father at the Commercial warehouse, but on the side and because he loved popular music he started bringing bands to Central Arkansas. Porter is now retired, largely because he thinks, “Music has now become noise.” But he likes to talk about his music experiences to groups like he did to the men’s club at the Lakewood United Methodist Church last week. He bragged that in 1955 he was the first person to bring Elvis Presley to Little Rock. By 1957 he was bringing famous bands to Little Rock — Tommy Dorsey, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, etc. “They hardly knew where Arkansas was,” Porter said. But that was before the crisis at Central High School when Gov. Orval Faubus called out the National Guard to keep black kids from going into the all-white school. Booking bands to Little Rock became a lot more complicated — and dangerous. Many people didn’t like the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education that called for the abolition of state-sponsored segregation in public facilities. It was then that Porter and a friend and big-band music fan, Bere Church, formed Porter Entertainment. Their first attraction was Les Brown and his band, and because all the musicians were white, there was no problem. But in 1961, Porter brought in Ray Charles and his orchestra to play for a dance in the Robinson Auditorium. Charles and all his musicians were black, and hundreds of blacks bought tickets. However, the auditorium’s rule was that they couldn’t dance and could only sit in the balcony. There were complaints and a lot of tension. Suddenly a Little Rock policeman arrested Porter and took him to jail on the charge of attempting to incite a riot. “I remember,” he said, “that when they walked me down the aisle in the jail I passed the cells that held several prostitutes and they yelled out, ‘Put him in here! Put him in here!’ ” He finally got to use a telephone and called Attorney General Jack Holt, a family friend, who told the policemen to release him. A month later, he did a deal to bring Duke Ellington and his orchestra to the auditorium. Porter wanted blacks to be able to dance rather than just sit in the balcony, but the auditorium manager said no. The NAACP intervened, and Ellington canceled five days before the dance. “I learned something,” Porter said. “It may be the law of the land but not at the Robinson Auditorium.” Porter then began to bring bands to private clubs that didn’t care if the musicians were black or white and to hotels that would admit anyone who had the money. So people got to hear Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Pete Fountain, Lionel Hampton, the Four Freshmen, the Glenn Miller band, etc. The popular places were the Pink Pussy Cat, where legislators used to hang out; Club 70, where there were occasional fights and bottle-throwing; and the Riverdale Country Club, which was owned by Winthrop Rockefeller, who never worried about the color of people’s skin. Porter closed his speech with a line from Wolfman Jack, once a nationally known disc jockey: “I’ve never seen a white man and I’ve never seen a black man. I only see men that look just like you and me.” On Martin Luther King Day a neighbor in Lakewood called to tell me that several hundred handbills had been thrown in people’s yards by men in a truck. They said: “Today we honor a philanderer, drunk, liar, plagiarist and cheater.” It also said he was a “communist sympathizer.” It quoted FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover saying that King was “the most notorious liar in the country” and “a tom cat with obsessive degenerate urges.” The handbill was signed by the White Revolution in Russellville. I think the head man of this organization is Billy Roper, Jr., a well-known white supremacist who used to be a high school history teacher. King, the youngest person ever to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, probably was a philanderer, and undoubtedly had to lie occasionally in leading the crusade for equality of blacks. But Hoover was known to be a cross-dresser, and he constantly lied to the members of Congress about the taps he put on their telephones. The White Revolution needs better critics. Even Dr. Spock and Harry Truman disliked J. Edgar Hoover.

From the ArkTimes store


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Robert McCord

  • The man behind the camera

    Newspaper photographers never get much money or attention. I know because I got my first job as one in the 1940s. In 1957, a guy named Will Counts learned it when he made the best pictures of the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School.
    • Oct 4, 2007
  • A straw poll

    Max Brantley took the week off. In his place, Robert McCord writes about presidential politics.
    • Mar 15, 2007
  • NLR: Second city no more.

    A long-time North Little Rock resident muses on the arrival of a former governor and current lieutenant governor and looks back at hometowns of governors and presidential contenders from Arkansas.
    • Jan 25, 2007
  • More »

More by Max Brantley

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated its 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Bob McCord

  • NLR: Second city no more.

    A long-time North Little Rock resident muses on the arrival of a former governor and current lieutenant governor and looks back at hometowns of governors and presidential contenders from Arkansas.
    • Jan 25, 2007
  • Parting thoughts

    This column is kind of a difficult one for me, and I will tell you why at the end. I have written some things that I believe would make Arkansas a better and more prosperous state.
    • Nov 23, 2006
  • On the winning side

    There were a lot of interesting things that happened all over in the country and in Arkansas at last week’s voting. For the first time I had more winners than losers, and...
    • Nov 16, 2006
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.
  • Pay attention

    If anyone thinks that a crisis with the Power Ultra Lounge shooting, then he hasn't been paying attention to Little Rock.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Another Jesus

    • The first commandment directly contradicts the first amendment.

    • on July 21, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • Arkyguy, try Numbers 31:17-18.


    • on July 21, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • And I quote: "Sounds like maybe some of those descriptors hit a little close to…

    • on July 21, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation