Governor Proclaims, Helena to Celebrate “Conway Twitty Day” June 1
HELENA, ARKANSAS – In recognition of the 25th anniversary of his death, the surviving family of rockabilly and country-music legend Conway Twitty will be returning to his hometown of Helena, Arkansas on Friday, June 1 for a series of festivities around what has been officially proclaimed “Conway Twitty Day” by Helena-West Helena Mayor Jay Hollowell, Phillips County Judge Clark Hall, and Governor Asa Hutchinson (the latter’s proclamation is for June 5, the actual date of Twitty’s death).
With a career that spanned five decades – from Sun Studios in Memphis and the infancy of rock-and-roll to the top of the country charts – the Country Music, Grammy, and Rockabilly Hall of Famer is one of the most-celebrated and recognized performers of the twentieth century, holding a record that has never been broken in any genre: 50 consecutive number one hits.
The formal events to commemorate the day include food, the unveiling of a historical marker interpreting Twitty’s extraordinary life and career, a presentation of a key to the city, formal proclamations by representatives of Phillips County and the state of Arkansas, and remarks from members of the Twitty family. Members of the family will also be selling merchandise and signing autographs after the program concludes.
“Helena has such a rich musical and cultural history that we sometimes struggle to keep up with celebrating it all,” said Doug Friedlander who is organizing the event on behalf of the City of Helena. “Conway Twitty is by far one of Helena’s most successful native sons and we’re very glad to have the opportunity to partner with his family to provide him with the long-overdue recognition he deserves.”
“We are so grateful to the City of Helena for paying tribute to our father,” said Twitty’s daughter Joni Jenkins Riels. “Helena is where his musical journey began as a small child. The roots which began in Helena carried him on an unimaginable journey to becoming one of music‘s greatest icons. Words cannot express how much we appreciate this honor for our father.”
The placement of Twitty’s marker is part of a broader undertaking by the City of Helena to further celebrate and interpret local music history. In addition to Twitty’s, a series of eight additional interpretive markers are slated to go up around the city recognizing music pioneers such as Levon Helm, Sonny Boy Williamson, “Sunshine” Sonny Payne, as well as the groundbreaking radio show “King Biscuit Time” and the radio station, KFFA, that aired it. The marker honoring Twitty will be the first to go up.
The event is free, open to the public, and will take place in Court Square Park (622 Cherry Street, Helena) with rain location at Beth El Heritage Hall (406 Perry Street, Helena). The event will begin at 4:30pm.
In addition, the following supplemental features are also on tap:
- Southbound Tavern (233 Cherry Street) will be featuring live music by the Nashville-based band “Willie and the Planks” and serving half-price drinks and appetizers from 5:30pm to 7:00pm to anyone who presents a copy of the event program.
- Handworks (227 Cherry Street) will be selling licensed Conway Twitty merchandise for the entire week leading up the event and will remain open late that night for those who wish to purchase merchandise after the event.
Among those confirmed to attend as of this time are:
- Three of Twitty’s children: Michael Twitty, Joni Jenkins Riels, and Jimmy Jenkins (along with numerous other members of the extended family)
- Musicians Vaughn Reed (who played alongside country music legend George Jones when they both played with Twitty), Al Harris (former member of the Twitty Birds who played piano for Twitty and was also his stage manager) and Rockabilly Hall-of-Famer C.W. Gatlin (who also ran with Twitty early in his career).
About Conway Twitty: Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins on September 1, 1933 just across the river from Helena in rural Friars Point, Mississippi, Twitty and his family relocated to Helena when Twitty was a child. Given his first guitar, a Sears & Roebuck acoustic, at the age of four, he demonstrated a musical gift. By age 10, he had formed his first band, the Phillips County Ramblers (Phillips County is the county in which Helena is located). With his mother as the primary breadwinner because his father was only able to find spotty work as a Mississippi riverboat pilot, teen-aged Twitty obtained employment as a carhop and used his earnings to buy clothes and shoes for his brother and sister.
During this time, he pursued two passions in tandem: music (via a weekly radio show he landed on the now-famous KFFA, home of the legendary King Biscuit Time radio show) and baseball, the latter of which led to being offered a contract by the Philadelphia Phillies organization after high school. When on the verge of heading down the road of baseball rather than music, fate intervened when he was drafted by the U.S. Army. While stationed in Japan, he kept both his dreams alive by forming a band (the “Cimmarons”) and playing on the local Army baseball team. However, by the time his stint in the army was done in the mid 1950s, he had decided he was heading to Memphis – drawn by the sudden popularity of a young man named Elvis Presley – rather than to Philadelphia.
While recording at Sun Studios alongside Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, Twitty began developing a sound that would lead to a record deal with MGM. He also took a stage name, contracting the names of two cities — Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas. In 1958, Conway Twitty scored his first No. 1 hit titled “It’s Only Make Believe.” His career as a rock-n-roll act took off, with the single topping the chart in 22 different countries and going on to sell eight million copies.
In addition to a short-lived movie career, appearing in films like Sex Kittens Go To College (with Mamie Van Doren), Platinum High School (Mickey Rooney), and College Confidential (Steve Allen), he and Elvis Presley were the inspiration for the play and film “Bye Bye Birdie,” a story about a young rock-n-roll star named Conrad Birdie, an intentional play on the name Conway Twitty.
Despite making a name for himself as a rock n roller, Twitty always had a love for country music. After almost a decade pursuing a career in rock-n-roll, Twitty put down his guitar, walked off the stage and embarked on one of the greatest country careers in history. Signed by legendary producer Owen Bradley to MCA/Decca in 1965, Twitty released several singles before 1968’s “Next In Line” became his first country No. 1. And thus began a run unmatched in music history: Twitty reeled off 50 consecutive No. 1 hits.
Widely regarded by Nashville’s songwriters as “the best friend a song ever had,” Twitty was pitched top shelf material for the better part of two decades, much of which he declined and referred on to other artists. He was also one of Music Row’s best songwriters in his own right, writing 19 of his No. 1s and earning Grammy nominations for compositions including his signature song “Hello Darlin’.”
Twitty’s tunes are the mile markers for three decades of country music: “Hello Darlin’,” “Goodbye Time,” “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” “Linda On My Mind,” “I’d Love To Lay You Down,” “Tight Fittin’ Jeans,” “That’s My Job.” Conway also entered into a duet partnership with the top female vocalist of that time, Loretta Lynn. They became the most awarded male/female duet in recording history with songs like “After The Fire Is Gone,” “Lead Me On,” and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” His voice even reached into outer space when “Hello Darlin” was played around the world during the linkup between America’s orbiting astronauts and Russia’s cosmonauts in a gesture of international good will.