Eight miles southeast of Cotton Plant, where state Highway 17 meets Interstate 49, a new sign was unveiled Friday afternoon honoring Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Arkansas native
Aside from Tharpe’s “Walking Up the King’s Highway,” which emanated from a tiny Bluetooth speaker that dangled from the wrist of Cotton Plant Historical Museum Director Angela Ryland, no tributes were given and no ceremonious words were spoken about the legendary performer’s career or impact; how her showmanship and charisma allowed her to navigate the complicated divisions between churches and nightclubs, secular and sacred music, romantic relationships with men and women, black and white audiences. Perhaps no introduction was needed. After all, anyone who bothered to come
Or, perhaps it was because this sign, like the one honoring Phillips County native Levon Helm that was unveiled near Marvel at 11 a.m. Friday
Just after the bill’s passage in early April, Spradlin,
“The one thing about the recognition of Rosetta Tharpe,” said Cotton Plant Mayor Willard C. Ryland (husband of museum Director Angela Ryland), “is the fact that this memorial provides an opportunity for Cotton Plant and its tourism. My wife and I moved back here about 10 years ago, and I think this is going to set the pace.”
One such stride he’d like to see (and one of the reasons he cites for the city’s application for a seed investment from the Delta Regional Authority by way of its Delta Creative Placemaking Initiative) is a billboard on Interstate 40 — fewer than 10 miles away — pointing people to Cotton Plant. “Millions of people — people who are tuned
“If anyone would put Cotton Plant on the map, it’d be Sister Rosetta,” Angela Ryland said. “And this is just the start,” she said. “This is just the beginning.” Her silver SUV was outfitted with door decals that read “COTTON PLANT, ARKANSAS: BIRTHPLACE OF SISTER ROSETTA THARPE.”
On that note, here’s a statement from Spradlin, post-ribbon cutting, on the spirit behind a bill that proved to be a rare moment for optimism in the last legislative session.
One of the greatest contributions our country has given the world is music that was borne from the sounds of those who struggle. More specifically, what Arkansas contributed was the combined sounds of poor black and white people that eventually would become rock and roll.
I’m so proud to finally see Arkansas recognize its legacy of creating some of the icons and architects of a gift that changed the world. Music will save your soul when nothing else will. There are millions of people throughout the world who for decades have turned to Arkansas voices and sounds, whether they realized it or not, to get them through the night or down that lonesome highway. While sports figures dating back to the early 20th century have long been celebrated and memorialized in our state, I feel like my heroes — Sister Rosetta, Levon and Louis Jordan — who are appreciated (even deified) elsewhere have gone without recognition in their homeland. We honor our state sports heroes and we should, but no matter how fast or how far someone has thrown a ball, I can scarcely imagine that it has ever transcended space and time to carry the same weight as those voices who bring comfort and celebration like no other.
I hope this is just the beginning … Sonny Boy Williamson? Charlie Rich? Glen Campbell? Albert King? Hopefully, more to come … .
— Greg Spradlin