Nine Little Rock artists and patrons deemed by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau as having made “a lasting impact through their contribution to the arts,” as CVB President and CEO Gretchen Hall stated, are to be honored with rooms named after them in the newly renovated Robinson Auditorium. (Though the Little Rock CVB’s press release announces the rooms are to be named after “nine prominent Little Rock natives,” it should be noted that William Grant Still was born in Woodsville, Miss., and grew up in Little Rock. Lawrence Hamilton was born in Ashdown, Ark. and grew up in Foreman, Ark. and Stella Boyle Smith, who was born in Farmington, Miss., moved to Little Rock in 1922.)
Those individuals, named in a press conference this morning following remarks from Hall and from Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission Chair Capi Peck, are as follows:
Meeting Room A will be named after Gail Davis (b. 1925). Davis, an inductee into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame who starred in 32 feature films, gained fame as the pigtailed sharpshooter in the TV Western series “Annie Oakley,” which ran from 1954-1956.
Meeting Room B will be named after Lawrence Hamilton (b. 1954 in Ashdown, Ark.). Hamilton, the former director of the Philander Smith College Choir, spent his career as a Broadway performer, vocal coach and music director. He performed at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II and for President Reagan at the White House.
Meeting Room C will be named after Art Porter, Sr. (b. 1934) and his son Art Porter, Jr. (b. 1961). Porter, Sr., a jazz pianist who taught at Parkview High School and Philander Smith College, influenced the musical life of President Bill Clinton, who later introduced the “Art Porter Bill,” which allowed underage musicians like the young Art Porter, Jr. to play in night clubs if chaperoned by a legal guardian.
Meeting Room D will be named after Ben Piazza (b. 1933), the Broadway director, actor and playwright who starred in films ranging from “The Blues Brothers,” “Endgame” and “The Hanging Tree,” and appeared on television in episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” “Gunsmoke” and “Dallas.”
The Grand Ballroom is to be named after Dr. William Grant Still (b.1895 in Woodville, Miss.), the composer of “The Afro-American Symphony,” the first symphony written by an African-American to be performed by a major orchestra. Still also composed “Troubled Island,” an opera with a libretto by Langston Hughes that was debuted by the New York City Opera in 1949.
The registration area outside the ballroom will commemorate the contributions of Florence Price (b. 1887), a contemporary of Still’s who became the first African-American woman to write a symphony that would be performed by a major symphony orchestra, “Symphony in E Minor,” performed in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The terrace that overlooks the Arkansas River is to be named after Stella Boyle Smith (b. 1893), the founder of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and of a charitable trust that provides scholarships to aspiring students of music in Arkansas.
Finally, the Patron’s Lounge and VIP area adjacent to the auditorium’s performance hall is to be named after Barry Travis (b. 1937), the former Little Rock CVB director who retired in 2006 after a 35-year career with the bureau.