BLACK HISTORY IN HOT SPRINGS: Entertainers who came from the Spa City
This is the final article to be published in The Post's Black History Month Series. A new article was scheduled to publish every Tuesday in February. The final article was delayed by one day.
Arkansas has a slew of ties to people who have grown to fame and gone on to influence many*, but when it comes to Hot Springs natives, there are quite a few ties to those who went down in history as famous Black entertainers whose influence we continue to see today.
Hot Springs native Henry Glover (May 21, 1921-April 7, 1991) was a songwriter, arranger, record producer and trumpet player. According to an article published in the Arkansas Times on March 8, 2021, Stephen Koch** said Glover was
the arranger you wanted at your recording sessions. He was the talent scout you wanted at your record label. And, with an uncanny knack for handling it all — country music, blues, pop, R&B, jazz, rock ’n’ roll — he was the songwriter whose songs you wanted to record. Born in Hot Springs, Glover had the additional good fortune of coming of age when the American music business was in expansion mode and open to a little experimentation.
Although Hot Springs was, for Arkansas, a comparatively cosmopolitan burg in the heyday of healing waters, the destination quickly defaulted to hardscrabble rural environs on the rough roads and train tracks out of town. This town/country dichotomy was later reflected in the variety of artists Glover would produce in the studio — early country stars Grandpa Jones and the Delmore Brothers; R&B performers James Brown and Hank Ballard & the Midnighters; pop artists Joey Dee & the Starlighters and the Charms; jazz vocalists Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. Glover also produced the first recordings of rock ’n’ roll pioneers Levon and the Hawks, later known as The Band. The group’s leader, Levon Helm, bonded with his fellow Arkansas native Glover, and over the years Helm came to see Glover as his mentor.
Glover left Hot Springs after high school, but credited his musical breadth in part to growing up in the “very unusual” town.
During last year's Arts and the Park, Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe proclaimed May 21 "Henry Glover Day" in honor of his centenary.
Hot Springs native Junius "Junie" Cobb (1896-1970) was a jazz instrumentalist. According to The Syncopated Times, Cobb
could play many instruments, but was best on reed instruments and piano. He began as pianist in Johnny Dunn’s Band as a teenager, then moved from New Orleans to Chicago, where he led his own band at the Club Alvadere in 1920 and 1921. He played banjo with King Oliver and with Jimmie Noone, and also recorded as a leader on clarinet, alto and tenor sax with Junie Cobb’s Hometown Band. His brother Jimmy Cobb often played cornet in his bands. He backed vocalist Annabelle Calhoun throughout the 1930s and 1940s, on many club and recording dates. He retired from full time playing in 1955, but kept playing gigs until 1967.
Big John Greer
Hot Springs native John Marshall Greer (November 21, 1923–May 12, 1972) was a blues tenor saxophonist and vocalist. Childhood friends with Glover, the two both attended Alabama A&M together. According to Greer's Wikipedia page,
Glover was playing in Lucky Millinder's band when Bull Moose Jackson left the group in 1948; Glover suggested that Greer be chosen as Jackson's replacement. Greer played with Bob Shad and appeared on Millinder's RCA recordings until 1950, when Millinder signed to King Records. Greer stayed with RCA and played with Wynonie Harris and Jackson, among others.
He sang lead vocals on his biggest hit, recorded in October 1951 "Got You On My Mind". In 1953, he switched to Groove Records, but did not make much impact on the American record charts there. In August 1954, he released "We Wanna See Santa Claus Do The Mambo," a Christmas hit to this day. In 1956, he finally signed with King, but only recorded for them for about a year. Greer also worked with Hal Singer and Bill Doggett.
By 1957, Greer had developed extended troubles with alcoholism, and he moved back to his home town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he died in 1972 at age 48.
Although Louis Jordan ( July 8, 1908-Feb. 4, 1975) was born in Brinkley, Arkansas, Koch, who wrote a biography on Jordan called Louis Jordan: Son of Arkansas, Father of R&B; said he launched nationally during his time in Hot Springs.
Koch said this "father of R&B" had a long-term gig at the Belvedere and played many of the other Hot Springs clubs, before going on to have 50 top ten hits, and influence singers like Ray Charles, B.B. King, James Brown and Chuck Berry.
In a 2014 Q&A by the Arkansas Times with Koch on his book, he said
Louis Jordan had a small pre-R&B / rock-style combo, his Tympany Five, in the midst of the Big Band era — to me, this is part of what makes him so innovative. And his songs seem rife with hedonist abandon compared to his staid contemporaries — and even to those who followed in his wake.
This 2013 quote from Robbie Robertson address that point in the book: “I’ve had the opportunity to sit with Chuck Berry and say, ‘OK, on Tuesday, it was Teresa Brewer and Patti Page singing popular music. On Thursday, something happened and there you were, and Little Richard and Fats Domino. Were you guys just waiting in the wings? How did rock ‘n’ roll explode that quickly? What happened?’ And Chuck Berry said because the real father of rock ’n’ roll had taught us something we couldn’t wait to share with everybody, and that guy’s name was Louis Jordan.”
*Some of these people can be seen in the Arkansas Walk of Fame located in front of the Visitor Center in downtown Hot Springs.
**Koch is a journalist, author and radio host of Arkansongs.