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Posts Tagged ‘Hot Springs

Musical Portrait of a President: Bill Clinton’s Young Life Inspires Opera

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Bill Clinton’s life has already been a soap opera.

Enter Bonnie Montgomery, a native Arkansan who has composed “Billy Blythe,” an opera in the traditional vein and based on the life of a teenage Clinton. The opera explores a summer day in 1959 in Hot Springs, Ark., with a young Clinton who lives with his colorful mother, Virginia, and his abusive stepfather, Roger Clinton.

Montgomery, 31, composed the music for the 90 minute opera with her long-time college friend, Brittany Barber, who wrote the lyrics. Four scenes of the opera recently debuted in the grand historic ballroom of Little Rock’s Women’s City Club.

Montgomery named the opera for the original last name of Clinton and his biological father, Bill Blythe, who died three months before the future president was born in 1946. Clinton went by the name until he was a teenager when he legally took his stepfather’s surname, although Roger Clinton never adopted him.

President Clinton and his mother, Virginia KelleyFour years ago, Montgomery, a professional musician, was inspired to write the opera while reading Clinton’s autobiography, “My Life.” Chapter Six moved her toward the piano.

In that chapter, Clinton begins: “I don’t know how Mother handled it all as well as she did. Every morning no matter what had happened the night before, she got up and put her game face on. And what a face it was. From the time she came back home from New Orleans, when I could get up early enough, I loved sitting on the floor of the bathroom and watching her put makeup on that beautiful face.”

Montgomery says that passage set her imagination on fire.

“It appeared to me on the stage with the lights, the set, the whole thing,” Montgomery says. “His life’s story is full of action and exaggerated Southern characters. It’s an amazing story that a man can come from where he came from and become the president. His personality is mythical and where he came from (Hot Springs) provides the perfect mythical backdrop.”

During the 1950s when Clinton lived in Hot Springs, the town, known internationally for its heated natural spring water, was a gambling haven for the rich and famous. Virginia didn’t shy away from gambling and she frequently visited the swanky nightclubs and local race track.

Virginia fortifies the opera as the central character in Clinton’s life. She molded her son – for better or worse – into the man he became, says Montgomery, who studied Virginia Clinton Kelley’s 1994 book, “Leading With My Heart” as she wrote the opera’s music.

Four scenes of the opera featured Virginia and Roger singing about their life in New Orleans in between morning kisses on a sofa. Another scene features the young Clinton, outside of a movie theater in downtown Hot Springs, singing about Gary Cooper’s “High Noon,” one of Clinton’s all-time favorite movies. Clinton also battles his stepfather to protect his mother in one high-octane scene near the opera’s end.

But the highlight of the opera is “Virginia’s Aria” when Virginia sings a lamented love note about Clinton’s father, Bill. In that song, Virginia compares Clinton to his biological father and highlights all the positives about her late husband. She sings as she puts on make-up, celebrating the benefits of lipstick and powder in attracting a man and holding back the cruelty of age.

Bill Clinton is also a natural subject for a native Arkansan like Montgomery.

Nearly every Arkansan of a certain age has a story to tell about him, and Montgomery is no different. She was in junior high school when Clinton first ran for president. She recalls putting a bumper sticker across her jeans to show her support of Clinton. “The first time I saw him was when I was a pee-wee cheerleader,” Montgomery says. “I was in the White County Fair parade on a float and he came to the parade. I just really remember he was really tall, friendly and had big hands.”

When she ran into Clinton last year in a hotel lobby in Little Rock., she told him about the project and he wished her luck. And at a Democratic event during the midterm campaign season, Montgomery presented him with a packet about the opera. So far, he hasn’t commented on it.

Montgomery says Clinton’s story is classically Southern and one that people could relate to even if Clinton had not been president. But her goal was to show some of the trials and tribulations that he battled as a young man. Those, she said, helped him to achieve the American dream.

Montgomery used her expertise in American art song and folk music to develop the opera. She wanted it to highlight the traditional characteristics of opera, with a Southern twist.

“Arkansas is so rich in musical heritage with Johnny Cash and the blues that it just made sense to focus on some of the rich music, too,” she says.

Montgomery, who also fronts a country and western band called Montgomery Trucking, assembled a cast from Arkansas, Tennessee, and Colorado. She is looking for an opera house to workshop the entire production.

Following the first performance, Montgomery and Barber hosted an after party at a local bar, ironically called The White Water Tavern (no connection to Clinton’s 1990s era Whitewater land scandals). There, the cast ramped up the opera to a racier version with Montgomery playing the role of Virginia — instead of mezzo-soprano Kelley Ponder who performed in the evening’s first performance.

Similar to the way Clinton took politics to a new generation via MTV back in 1992, Montgomery wants to enlighten a younger generation about opera, which has engaged her since high school. She says that many people have the wrong impression about the musical form. It’s not just boring and stuffy with big voices singing in Italian, Montgomery stresses.

“I want to take opera to a different crowd,” she says. “It would be great if this production could tour like a rock band and reach people who may never hear an opera. People could learn about opera and Bill Clinton at the same time.”


Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Voter Lawsuit Filed in Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln, Bill Halter Senate Runoff

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A lawsuit on behalf of three Arkansas voters against the Garland County Election Commission was filed late Tuesday afternoon, adding a dramatic twist to Tuesday’s runoff between incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Governor Bill Halter for the Democratic Senate nomination.

The lawsuit, filed by Hot Springs attorney Ben Hooten, states that the commission intentionally scheduled only two polling sites for “the purpose of disenfranchising ” minority, elderly, poor and disabled voters in the county. It also says that “the greater part of the voting electorate are unable to find or reach” the polling places and are “thereby deprived of their right to vote and were disenfranchised.”

“They’ve tried this before,” Hooten said in an interview with Politics Daily. “They tried it in 2008 and I fled suit then. It was a special election on bonds that year, but they closed all the polls citywide, but one.”
The suit filed Tuesday asks the court to stop the certification of the votes and challenges the validity of the runoff election. Once votes are certified in Arkansas, 10 days after an election, it is almost impossible to challenge them.

The lawsuit may be the first in a string of possible protests in Garland County, a populous area 55 miles from Little Rock that both the Lincoln and Halter campaigns have focused on with get-out-the-vote efforts.

County election officials decided to open only two polling spots for Tuesday’s runoff instead of the 41 precincts that were open for the May 18 primary. The action was to save money, the county election commissioner said, but the state pays for primary and runoff elections.

A notice was supposed to be mailed by the county clerk under the direction of the county election commission to registered voters within 15 days of the election. That did not happen in Garland County.
Traffic and parking problems earlier in the day led to police showing up to control the congestion at the downtown polling spot. That location, which is next to the election commission, had waits of up to 30 minutes in late afternoon. That was in contrast to precincts in Little Rock where voters walked in and cast their ballots in less than 10 minutes.
In the primary on May 18, Lincoln won 44.5 percent of the vote to Halter’s 42.5 percent. A third candidate, D.C. Morrison, won 13 percent. In Garland County, Halter received 5,425 votes to Lincoln’s 4,951 — a difference of only 474.
The Arkansas Senate race has been one of the most watched in the country. Outside interest groups — unions and progressive groups for Halter, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and third party groups such as Americans for Job Security for Lincoln — have spent millions on behalf of their respective candidates. The winner faces Republican U.S. Rep. John Boozman in the general election.
If Tuesday night’s results are narrow, Halter or Lincoln could call for a recount or file lawsuits. Three state runoff races and one Garland County runoff contest are also on the county ballot. Any of those candidates who loose by a thin margin could also file a court challenge to overturn the results.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, Arkansas is one of the few remaining states to rely primarily on volunteers to administer elections that have become “increasingly time-consuming and technologically complex with the passage of federal mandates.”
Last year, a bill was introduced in the legislature that would have required each county to hire an election coordinator. That bill was withdrawn because county officials were worried about tapping their budgets to pay for someone to oversee elections.
In Garland County, the commission is made is up of three people – the Democratic Party chair, the Republican Party county chair and a third member from the majority party – in this case, the Democratic Party.
The county does not have a paid election coordinator.

Written by suziparker1313

March 2, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Arkansas’ Halter-Lincoln Runoff: Voter Irregularities Brewing

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A voting drama looms in Arkansas’ Democratic senate race between incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
The battleground? Garland County, a populous county that sits 55 miles from Little Rock.
It was the most heavily populated county that Halter won in the May 18 primary. On that day, the county had 41 polling places open, but for Tuesday’s runoff, there will only open two in order to save money.
Obviously, that plan does not set well with Halter.
“We certainly are concerned that Garland County, which has over 80,000 Arkansas citizens and had approximately 40 polling sites for the primary, has now been reduced down to two polling sites,” Halter told reporters Monday during a campaign swing in Little Rock.
Halter received 5,425 votes to Lincoln’s 4,951 in the county, which actually has about 70,507 residents. The third candidate, D.C. Morrison, received 1,882 votes.
It’s not just these voters who may return to vote again on Tuesday. Arkansans who did not vote initially in the May primary can also vote in the runoff election.
If voters turn out like they did on May 18, the two polling places — one in downtown Hot Springs, the other in a retirement village — will not be sufficient enough to handle hundreds of voters per hour.
Some voters would have to drive more than 20 miles in order to cast their ballot. The county is a haven for retirees — a major voting group.
The same two sites open for the runoff were also available for early voting from June 1-4 during regular business hours.
Halter met with Garland County Election Commission Chairman Charles Tapp last Friday to express his concerns; Tapp said he would open one of the sites on Saturday.
However, state law prevents voting on Saturday in a runoff, so the polling place was shut down — after opening briefly on Saturday morning — when Tapp learned of the state law. No voters cast ballots and those who were in line were told they could return on Monday or Tuesday.
According to the secretary of state’s office, when a county election commission changes polling sites since the most recent general election, all affected voters must be notified by mail. In Garland County, that did not happen.
The Halter campaign has invested heavily in its ground game in Hot Springs, the Garland County town where Bill Clinton graduated from high school. In 2006’s general election, Halter received 57 percent of the county vote in his bid for lieutenant governor.

In 2004, Lincoln received 56 percent of the general election vote in Garland County for her Senate re-election campaign.

Late Monday night, Halter campaign workers placed large signs in every polling place in Garland County to alert voters of the changes.
The Halter campaign is also watching election procedures in at least 30 other Arkansas counties where polling locations have been reduced since the primary.
The Lincoln campaign has remained silent, thus far, on the imminent Election Day fiasco.

The forecast calls for 99-degree heat with a possible heat index of 105 on Tuesday. How long will voters, especially elderly ones, stand in such sultry conditions to cast a ballot?

It should come as no surprise if a lawsuit by one campaign, or both, is filed to keep the polls open past regular hours on Tuesday.

That, in turn, could open the floodgates for accusations — and litigation — of voter disenfranchising and a host of other irregularities, depending on how sore the loser of this 14-week contentious battle is at the end of the night.

Written by suziparker1313

March 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm