Delta Rhythm ‘n’ Bayous Alliance, a non-profit laying the foundation for tourism-based economic development, provides this update: HR 1054, a bill entitled To Designate a Portion of Highway 65 as the “Delta Rhythm & Bayous Highway” just overwhelmingly passed the House on Tuesday, February 21, 2017, and has been ordered transmitted to the state Senate. The bill was filed by lead sponsor Representative Vivian Flowers on December 21, 2016. Co-sponsors in the House of Representatives are LeAnne Burch of Monticello, Kenneth Ferguson of Pine Bluff, Mike Holcomb of the Pine Bluff area, Mark McElroy of Tillar, and Chris Richey of West Helena. The lead sponsor in the Senate is Eddie Cheatham of Crossett; co-sponsors are Senators Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff and Trent Garner of El Dorado.
Delta Rhythm ‘n’ Bayous Alliance CEO Jimmy Cunningham, Jr., aptly states, “Kudos to State Rep. Vivian L. Flowers for embracing the idea, sponsoring the bill, and deftly shepherding the legislative process. Kudos to State Rep. Ken Ferguson for his continued support as well.”
The Delta Rhythm ‘n’ Bayous Alliance draws on the region’s history of a “profound set of musical contributions” from areas along U.S. Highway 65 South — and parallel to the world’s longest bayou, Bayou Bartholomew. These artists and contributions, all significant in their respective genres, deserve far more recognition many have received thus far — “hidden treasures!” as Mr. Cunningham calls them. Although he has in mind the beauty of these artists and their accomplishments, some may see the tourism-based business opportunities as a second meaning of “treasures.”
The Delta Rhythm ‘n’ Blues Alliance was incorporated as a nonprofit in February, 2016. According to Mr. Cunningham, the alliance “began a process to plan ways in which the major towns and cities in this corridor could highlight these important music and bayou distinctions. Effectively, this creates a much needed regional brand for the Southeast Arkansas Delta. With the proper marketing and relevant interpretative venues, this could lead to major boosts in tourism revenue. Similar initiatives have been implemented in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee with major success in generating tourism revenue.” The region targeted by the alliance also includes part of western Mississippi and northeastern Louisiana. Pine Bluff is one of two anchor cities in this effort; the other is Greenville, Mississippi.
The board members are as follows:
- Jacquelyn Roberts (former state Representative – Pine Bluff, AR)
- Dr. David Rainey (former state Representative, former superintendent – Dumas, AR)
- Catherine Gardner (Communications Director, Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau – Greenville, MS)
- Brian Austin (President, Port City Blues Society, Blues band leader – Pine Bluff, AR)
- Dr. John Kirk (Chair, University of Arkansas at Little Rock History Department)
- Dr. Lenore Shoults (Executive Director, Southeast Arkansas Arts and Science Center – Pine Bluff, AR)
- Danny Campbell – (Chair, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Art Department)
- Jimmy Cunningham, Jr. (grant writer, author, native of Pine Bluff, AR – currently in Nashville, TN)
- LaTasha Savage (business owner – Pine Bluff, AR)
- Janice Kearney, (professor, author, native of Gould, Arkansas – currently in Little Rock, AR)
They can be contacted through their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/deltarhythmnbayousalliance/ .
The alliance has developed partnerships with cities along Highway 65: Pine Buff, Gould, Dumas, Dermott, and Lake Village, Arkansas; Greenville, Mississippi; and Lake Providence, Louisiana. Additional partnerships have been formed with the Southeast Arkansas Arts and Science Center, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, the UALR Center on Race and Ethnicity, and UAPB Arts Department.” As Mr. Cunningham describes, “these partners allow us to have built- in expertise and guidance in history, arts, and geology in this project. We are able to apply for grants and projects separately or in partnership with these entities. This strengthens application packages and proposals to funders. One of Arkansas foremost historians, Dr. John Kirk, the chair of the history dept. at UALR is directly tied to this project. He is from Britain. We have had conversations about how this project can partner with blues initiatives in Britain. Really, the possibilities are endless.”
Several updates have been added to this topic since this post was first published, including news that the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Highway designation did become official with Act 451. Key updates, as recent as October of 2018, are listed here: Tribute to Blues Legend Bobby Rush, Delta Rhythm & Bayous Alliance: Mid-2018 Updates, Act 451: Delta Rhythm & Bayous Highway, and Delta Rhythm & Bayous: Pine Bluff Heritage Tourism in a Nutshell.
Note: The Delta Rhythm ‘n’ Bayous Alliance has, at points, been spelled out as the Delta Rhythm and Bayous Alliance, Delta Rhythm & Bayous Alliance, DRBA, and DRB Alliance. Over time, the most common usage has become Delta Rhythm & Bayous Alliance and DRBA.