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Al Hibbler

Hear Al sing: Click Here

Google "Al Hibbler" on the internet. Chances are the information you'll find will never mention that Hibbler ever lived in Dell, Arkansas. But, he did. In fact, it was while he was living in Dell as a boy that Mrs. Myrtle Martin took an interest in the obviously talented young man. She worked diligently to get Al and his brother accepted into the Arkansas State School for the Blind in Little Rock, Arkansas, where they began classes in 1930. And, as they say, "the rest is history!" In 1935 while Al was studying voice at the Blind School, he first met Duke Ellington. Almost a decade later, they met again. This time The Duke hired Hibbler. From there Al Hibbler became a legend, singing for many great bands before going solo. His biggest and best known hit "Unchained Melody" sold 3.5 million copies in just six months. "He" sold 2.5 million copies.

The Arkansas State School for the Blind may claim they taught Hibbler voice, but he always told friends that he learned more about singing while sitting at Brownlee's Store (in Dell), listening to the radio. He was known as a "street singer" even then. Dallas Brownlee often spoke of he and other friends, sitting on the Hibbler front porch and listening to the young Al sing.

The following article appeared in the Blytheville Courier News ca 1991.

Dell Native Makes a Swing Through

by Tammie Howell, CN Staff Writer

BLYTHEVILLE--One of Missisppi County's own came back for a visit last week, jazz singer, Al Hibbler.
Hibbler was visiting Alle Freeman from Little Rock when he decided that 40 years was too long to go without coming home for a visit. Hibbler grew up in Dell and shared several memories of his childhood. Blind from birth, Hibler said, he used to sit all day in the Brownlee's Store in Dell and listen to the radio. "I learned more about singing by listening to that store radio," he said. "I used to sit there all day long, just listening." All of that listening must have paid off for Hibbler, because at the age of 75, he's still singing and has been ever since those days of listening to the radio in Brownlee's store in Dell. Hibbler said that Myrtle Martin of Dell helped him and his brother, who was also blind, to attend the Arkansas State School for the Blind in Little Rock. In Little Rock, Hibbler was known as a street singer, because he sang everywhere he could. In 1935, Hibbler graduated from the blind school and went to work singing with local bands. He sang with Monroe Fingers and His Yellow Jackets, Tex Boots and His Buddies and ended up singing with Duke Ellington in the 1940's. After singing with Ellington, Hibbler went out on his own. "He" was the title of one album he put out that sold 2.5 million copies and "The Unchanged Melody" which he released in 1955 sold 3.5 million copies in six months. "I made five cents a record on that," he said. Another of his songs, "After the Lights Go Down Low," sold 950,000 copies. As Hibbler reminisces, names such as Nat King Cole and the young Frank Sinatra flow with the conversation. "I knew Frank when he was just starting out," he said.During the interview, a childhood friend, Frank Collins, resident of Blytheville, came in to visit. The men shook hands, and Hibbler told his friend, "You look good! You look real good."About his blindness, Hibbler said, "People tell me that I can't see, I don't tell them, because I see a lot.""Life can be so beautiful, whether you're blind or not, if you know how to live it!" he said.One of his secrets to living a happy life, he said, was "I don't worry about things that I can't do anything about." Problems, he said, were made by people who enjoyed creating problems! "I do my best to make everything easy," he said.Hibbler said he'd had a very good life. He's been around the world twice, with his singing career, even to Australia, he added. He's won many awards, including the Down Beat Award-three times, the Esquire Award-twice, and lots of awards from colleges including "The Kings Of Singers" award, given to him in 1955 from Columbia University. One plaque that his is very proud of is from Gov. Bill Clinton, which was presented to him for doing a benefit concert for Philander Smith College.Of all this, Hibbler said, one of his greatest achievements was to be able to come back home after all these years and visit the people. For the past two or three years, Hibbler has been working on his autobiography. The book entitled, "Al Hibbler: Sees All and Tells All," should be out by the end of the year, he said.When asked if he was still recording, Hibbler said, "Yes, when I find a recoding company who wants to record something sane. I like to sing so that People know what I'm talking about!"As the interview drew to a close, Freeman, played several of Hibbler's songs on a cassette player. The three men, Hibbler, Collins, and Freeman, sat there, not speaking, but listening to Hibbler's voice coming from the cassette player as he sang, "He Is Always There," and "What Tis," each lost in their own thoughts.

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----Al Hibbler died 2001 in Chicago, Illinois. He was 85 years old.----

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Lois Lenski Wrote and Illustrated Three Books Based On Life In Mississippi County, Arkansas

 

Lois Lenski was a popular author/illustrator of children's books, writing her first book, Skipping Village, in 1927. Many books followed. In 1944 she won the Marth Kinney Cooper Ohioana Library Medal for the first in her regional series for children, Bayou Suzette. In 1946, she received the 1946 Newbery Medal for Strawberry Girl, another book in the series which earned her national recognition. For all her regional series, Miss Lenski gathered material first-hand at the localities of her stories. Children at Yarbro School (north of Blytheville) heard her read the book Strawberry Girl on the radio and promptly wrote Miss Lenski, inviting her to visit Mississippi County and write a book about the people of the Delta. Miss Lenski arrived for a short visit in the spring of 1947, only to return that fall, living in the Hotel Noble in Blytheville, Arkansas for 6-8 weeks while she traveled the countryside, gathering stories and information, and making sketches of the area. Look closely at the illustrations in the books Cotton In My Sack, and We Live By The River, and Houseboat Girl, locals will see many landmarks of the Blytheville, Yarbro, Dell area. The old Ritz Theater in Blytheville is illustrated in Cotton In My Sack, which was the first book written about the Delta. Published in 1949, it is dedicated "For my beloved Arkansas cotton children."

Lenski returned to Mississippi County in 1954.This time she was interested in life on the Mississippi River. We Live By The River resulted in this visit. It is the story of Lola Mae, a "river rat", who grew up on the river. We Live By The River was published in 1956. In 1957, Houseboat Girl was published. It's the story of Patsy, the young lady whose family makes a living on the Mississippi River, catching catfish and turtles.

Lenski's love for the children of the Delta and her fondness of the Delta is apparent in this Forward to Cotton In My Sack.

"It was Strawberry Girl who introduced me to my cotton children. They had heard the dramatization over the air and after they had read the book, they wrote to me. They invited me to come to Arkansas and write a book about cotton. I began a delightful correspondence with teachers and children. A convenient time came for me to go to Arkansas fo a preliminary visit in the spring of 1947. A longer visit was possible in the fall. I was unwilling to write a cotton book without experienceing in every detail all cotton-growing activities. I entered another world. I donned a sunbonnet, pulled a nine-foot sack and picked cotton with the children. I achieved a sunburned nose, a crick in my back and about half as much cotton as the average ten-year-old picker. Most of my time was not spent picking, however, but studying the actions of the pickers, young and old, making sketches, talking and listening. I observed objectively, yet shared in every happening. I learned so many things-the weith of a full sack and the weariness it brings; the desirability of a good row and the sarisfaction that comes when the bolls are large and the sak fills fast; the length of a day from sunrise-the sun is hot and bright before six in Arkansas-to sunset. I was as eager as anyone to watch the weighing up and see if the desired number of pounds had been accomplishied. I climbed on the waiting truck and rode with the town-pickers to their homes in town, while the setting sun flooded the great arch of the sky with red and gold. I cam to know the cotton children and through stories of personal experiences which they told me, to share their life. As I listened, my admiration and respect for childhood increased, for here at first hadn, I saw all its courage, stoicism and fortitude. These children knew what it meant to be alive. In their faces I saw a look of that wisdom and kindness which only children know, expressed with ease and certainty. They had seen sorrow and so they were compassionate. They had see meannessm and so they valued goodness. They had endured hardship, and so theirs was an attitude not of excape but acceptance. They were ready for whatever life might bring. And because sorrow, meanness and hardship were a part of their lives, they had a better understanding of the joy of living, which comes by a full sharing in human adventure. Through the children I came to know parents, neighbors and friends. I heard many conflicting points of view on cotton economy, but my primary concern was human character in action, as controlled by an environment. I visited in homes of sharecroppers, tencants and owners alike. I often stayed for meals and felt honored to share a place at the kitchen table. I remember how many questions I asked and how patient everybody was in answering. From my cotton children and their families I learned a great deal more than facts about cotton-growing. There are more white than Negro sharecroppers in the United States. My cotton family is imaginary, but the incidents used have been taken from real life. Many people, both children and adults, contributed voluntarily, out of their personal experience, to the story.On Saturdays in town, I sat in a large general store and witnessed a continual moving drama, with Mexicans, Negroes and white people trading, talking and visiting. One day in a thunder storm the electric lights went out and I heard a woman say: "We're all the same color when the lights are out."An elderly man at a fruit stand, watching it rain, said; "The rain is God's fertilizer. It falls on rich and poor alike."A colored preacher at a Negro service in a little frame church set in a cotton field said to his congregation: "If you want a friend, first show yourself friendly."I did not invent these expressions. They came from the people themselves.It was another and adifferent world, but I had no feeling of strangeness. I felt as if I had always lived in the cotton country. The cotton People were my people. I was warmed by their kinship and happy in the thought that I belonged.If this book has anything of their spirit in it, it is because they themselves put it there; and they have, as they well know, my gratitude."

The three books, Cotton In My Sack, We Live By The River and Houseboat Girl are more than children's books of the Delta region. They are an insight into our heritage and well worth reading--young or old.

 

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