Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Buddy Hayes park

The Fayetteville Flyer reports on a meeting of the Fayetteville Forward Historic and Heritage Resources Group, led by local preservationist and past pro-sound ordinance/anti local music crusader Paula Marinoni, and asks "What are some of the historic places in Fayetteville that need to be preserved? What are our traditions? What are some of the things that you’d consider Fayetteville heritage?"

Because I'm out here in the diaspora, I can't go to the meetings, but here's my recommendation:

Fayetteville has a rich and active musical tradition, and for many years the town's flagship band was the (now mostly retired) Cate Brothers, whose career included 4 major label albums, (1975-1979) 2 smaller label albums, (1970-1972) 5 independently released CDs, (1996-2007) tours of Europe and Japan and performances with (not just opening for but playing music on stage with) the Band, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and the Grateful Dead. They deserve some commemoration, but that's not who I'm thinking of here. The Cates grew up in all-white (then) Springdale, but got turned onto the style of music they play by (black) artists like Ray Charles and Bobby 'Blue' Bland by the Jukebox at the Rockwood Club, co-owned by Ronnie Hawkins, whose band, the Hawks, played an aggressive and distinctly southern form of rock and roll and R& B and who included future members of The Band and also some blues and country luminaries.

Hawkins was born around Huntsville but grew up in Fayetteville, was part of the first generation of white rock and rollers in the South. Besides the success of his band, a virtual minor league training center for important figures in roots rock, he's been internationally known since the 60s, he hosted John Lennon and Yoko, played for presidents and kings, and is still rocking. He's always kept his Fayetteville roots close to his heart, returning regularly, and even helping out Fayetteville musicians like the great Jojo Thompson when he needed a helping hand. We could show our appreciation of Ronnie a little, but he's not who I'm talking about. Jojo Thompson was a unique and powerful musical voice who, with a little more respect from club owners and better luck, might have been known as our contribution to the 80s and 90s blues revival, but he's not who I'm thinking of either.

Ronnie Hawkins learned about, and then learned to play and sing what he called "black music" --blues and R&*B--from the guy who shined shoes at the UA style shop where Hawkins dad cut hair. That guy, Ralph "Buddy" Hayes was a trumpet player and band leader whose group, I'm told, had a sound and a songbook similar to that of Louis Jordan or Louis Armstrong. They played in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Eureka Springs and were remarkably successful, especially for a black band working in the Ozarks in the 40s. More than the success they achieved at the time, Buddy and his band represent an unbroken musical chain, our own example of a process of transculturation and sharing that cut across racially unjust legal and social barriers, and helped create a definitive local sound that's also part of an important historical and cultural process.

Now, there is a memorial to Buddy Hayes in Fayetteville, it's a little park on the southside, in the neighborhood that's called either "spout Spring" or "The Holler" or "Tincup" depending on what generation of Fayettevillian you are. the park itself is just about big enough to park a car on, and there's a small stone marker with a dedication and Buddy's name on it, and nothing else. it sits in the shadow of the Confederate Cemetery, founded by the Southern Memorial Association in 1872 and maintianed by them til this day. If you want information about that Cemetery, the people in it, the cause they fought for, it's founding, and more you can look on the internet, you can go to the public library, the Washington county Historical society, and more. If you want information on Buddy Hayes you have to talk to people, or read Ronnie Hawkins autobiography.

History is made up of memory, of what is told and remembered and preserved. for almost 140 years citizens of Fayetteville have proudly maintained a monument to misguided loyalty and racial tyranny. Now I understand that the civil war was about more than slavery, but it was also, very much, about slavery. I know that wasn't why everyone who fought for the south fought, hell, most of the people in Washington County wealthy enough to own slaves fled to Texas and sat out the war there, but you can't take slavery out of the equation and have it still make sense, no matter how much better we feel if we do. Anyway, I do love that cemetery aesthetically, no matter how perverse it's location above the town's only historically African American neighborhood has been. I'm not protesting it's existence or preservation, I'm just asking for a little equal time for community, music,and love across racial lines, and for the people who's stories have been left out of local history and heritage.

Fayetteville was the only city in the Arkansas Ozarks whose black population increased in the years after the civil war, as the black population of the Ozarks moved into or through the city. Most moved down from the hills seeking a better economic life, though black folks in Harrison and Eureka Springs were driven out in violent purges. African American American labor contributed greatly to the rebuilding of the town, which was, by the way, mostly destroyed by Confederate, not Union forces. Between roughly 1900 and the early 1970s, the Spout Spring neighborhood was a community within a community, where people lived and raised families and went to school and contributed to the economic and cultural life of the town. Fayetteville is justly proud to be the second school board in the nation to vote to comply with Brown V. Board in 1954 and integrate it's secondary schools. We know, as a matter of public record, much about the white administrators who, courageously and honorably took on their own establishment to press for and support these changes, but we know little about the people who walked down the trails that they opened up, or why it took the city until 1965 to integrate the elementary schools, why the Lincoln School building was torn down after neighborhood residents refurbished the building to use as a community center, and why in general, the history of black fayettevillians has never been much of a part of the larger history of the city.

Understanding the music and career of Buddy Hayes, the cultural environment he operated in, his influence on Fayetteville musicians and on the growth of a music scene in Fayetteville that combined traditions maintained by both black and white southerners would help us to understand our history and heritage in a more complex and experiential way. Bringing the history of the part of town where he came from out into the light would give us a fuller and more three-dimensional understanding of the transformations of our region, and help to complicate the media driven image of the Ozarks as a strictly white enclave. It also might expand our definiton of a "historic neigborhood' so that doesn't just mean "where rich people had nice houses." Given all of this (and sorry it took so long!) I'd like to see an expansion of Buddy Hayes park and the establishment of a publicly accessible archive based on material that could be gathered by the fine folks at the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies and the David Pryor Oral History Project at the U of A. Spout Spring has been a (secret) important part of what made Fayetteville culturally different from the rest of the Ozarks for most of the 20th century. let's remember it.


Ted Swedenburg said...

wow! great, and really interesting.

send your email & news! tsweden@uark.edu.

Meredith Martin-Moats said...

Thanks for this article. Came across it while doing some research and found it very helpful. Thanks again.

Urk said...

Meredith- thanks for the comment. Your blog looks fascinating too. I'm curious what kind of research you're doing. I was wrtiing a dissertation about music and literature in Northwest Arkansas before I had to switch topics. I'd be happy to point you towards some of the sources that I drew on for this & for some other stuff I was writing.