King Biscuit Blues Festival

Last updated
King Biscuit Blues Festival
Genre Blues
Location(s) Helena, Arkansas, United States
Coordinates 34°31′25″N90°35′11″W / 34.5237°N 90.5865°W / 34.5237; -90.5865 Coordinates: 34°31′25″N90°35′11″W / 34.5237°N 90.5865°W / 34.5237; -90.5865
Years active1986-present
Website King Biscuit Blues Festival website

The King Biscuit Blues Festival is an annual, multi-day blues festival, held in Helena, Arkansas, United States. [1]

Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1870s by African-Americans from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, and spirituals. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes, usually thirds, fifths or sevenths flattened in pitch are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove.

Helena, Arkansas City in Arkansas, United States

Helena is the eastern portion of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, a city in Phillips County, Arkansas. It was founded in 1833 by Nicholas Rightor and is named after the daughter of Sylvanus Phillips, an early settler of Phillips County and the namesake of Phillips County. As of the 2000 census, this portion of the city population was 6,323. Helena was the county seat of Phillips County until January 1, 2006, when it merged its government and city limits with neighboring West Helena.



The name of the festival comes from King Biscuit Time , which was the longest running radio show. Sonny Boy Williamson II and other musicians played live on KFFA every weekday, pausing for King Biscuit flour commercials and announcements of their next night time performances. Jim O'Neal, the editor of Living Blues magazine at the time and an authority on blues history, said, "The King Biscuit hour was the thing that really crystallized blues music in this area. Muddy Waters and B.B. King would come home from working in the fields every day just to listen to the King Biscuit hour. The festival was temporarily renamed Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival from 2005 to 2010 due to problems arising out of rights of the name. [2]

King Biscuit Time is the longest-running daily American radio broadcast in history. The program is broadcast each weekday from KFFA in Helena, Arkansas, United States, and has won the George Foster Peabody Award for broadcasting excellence. In 2018, certain selections of King Biscuit Time from 1965 were selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or artistically significant."

Alex or Aleck Miller, known later in his career as Sonny Boy Williamson, was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter. He was an early and influential blues harp stylist who recorded successfully in the 1950s and 1960s. Miller used various names, including Rice Miller and Little Boy Blue, before calling himself Sonny Boy Williamson, which was also the name of a popular Chicago blues singer and harmonica player. To distinguish the two, Miller has been referred to as Sonny Boy Williamson II.

Living Blues: The Magazine of the African American Blues Tradition is a bi-monthly magazine focused on blues music, and America's oldest blues periodical. The magazine was founded as a quarterly in Chicago in 1970 by Jim O'Neal and Amy van Singel as editors, and five others as writers. Among them were Bruce Iglauer and Paul Garon. They sold the first copies at the 1970 Ann Arbor Blues Festival.

The festival was started in 1986 under the guidance of the "Main Street Helena" organization, which is part of the "Main Street, USA" program. Its purpose was to revitalize the downtown area of the Mississippi River port city. Lonnie Shields appeared at the inaugural festival. [3]

Mississippi River largest river system in North America

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Its source is Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi (2,980,000 km2), of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Lonnie Shields is an American electric blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. His primary influence was B.B. King. He has released six albums to date, and one publication described his music as "bewitching, funk-influenced variations on the oldest country blues".

See also

Related Research Articles

West Helena, Arkansas City in Arkansas, United States

West Helena is the western portion of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, a city in Phillips County, Arkansas, United States. As of the 2000 census, this portion of the city population was 8,689.

B.B. King American blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter

Riley B. King, known professionally as B.B. King, was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. King introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato that influenced many later electric blues guitarists.

Robert Lockwood Jr. American Delta blues guitarist

Robert Lockwood Jr. was an American Delta blues guitarist, who recorded for Chess Records and other Chicago labels in the 1950s and 1960s. He was the only guitarist to have learned to play directly from Robert Johnson. Lockwood is known for his longtime collaboration with Sonny Boy Williamson II and for his work in the mid-1950s with Little Walter.

Delta Cultural Center History museum in Helena, Arkansas

The Delta Cultural Center in downtown Helena, Arkansas, is a cultural center and museum of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. It is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the culture of the Arkansas Delta.

Arkansas is a Southern state of the United States. Arkansas's musical heritage includes country music and various related styles like bluegrass and rockabilly.

Pinetop Perkins American blues pianist

Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins was an American blues pianist. He played with some of the most influential blues and rock-and-roll performers of his time and received numerous honors, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Lonnie Brooks American blues singer and guitarist

Lonnie Brooks was an American blues singer and guitarist. The musicologist Robert Palmer, writing in Rolling Stone, stated, "His music is witty, soulful and ferociously energetic, brimming with novel harmonic turnarounds, committed vocals and simply astonishing guitar work." Jon Pareles, a music critic for the New York Times, wrote, "He sings in a rowdy baritone, sliding and rasping in songs that celebrate lust, fulfilled and unfulfilled; his guitar solos are pointed and unhurried, with a tone that slices cleanly across the beat. Wearing a cowboy hat, he looks like the embodiment of a good-time bluesman." Howard Reich, a music critic for the Chicago Tribune, wrote, "...the music that thundered from Brooks' instrument and voice...shook the room. His sound was so huge and delivery so ferocious as to make everything alongside him seem a little smaller."

Helena–West Helena, Arkansas Place in Arkansas, United States

Helena–West Helena is the county seat of and the largest city within Phillips County, Arkansas, United States. The current city was consolidated, effective January 1, 2006, from the two Arkansas cities of Helena and West Helena. Helena is sited on lowlands between the Mississippi River and the eastern side of Crowley's Ridge. West Helena is located on the western side of Crowley's Ridge, a geographic anomaly in the typically flat Arkansas Delta. The Helena Bridge, one of Arkansas' four Mississippi River bridges, carries U.S. Route 49 across to Mississippi. The combined population of the two cities was 15,012 at the 2000 census and at the 2010 census, the official population was 12,282.

KFFA (AM) radio station (1360 AM) licensed to Helena, Arkansas, United States

KFFA is an American radio station licensed by the FCC to serve the community of Helena, Arkansas. The station is owned by Monte Spearman and Gentry Todd Spearman, through licensee High Plains Radio Network, LLC.

Arkansas Delta

The Arkansas Delta is one of the six natural regions of the state of Arkansas. Willard B. Gatewood Jr., author of The Arkansas Delta: Land of Paradox, says that rich cotton lands of the Arkansas Delta make that area "The Deepest of the Deep South."

Larry McCray American blues guitarist and singer

Larry McCray is an American blues guitarist and singer.

John William Payne, better known as "Sunshine" Sonny Payne, was an American radio presenter, who had presented blues music as the host of the King Biscuit Time radio show on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas from 1951 until his death. In 2010 he was nominated for induction into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Houston Stackhouse was an American Delta blues guitarist and singer. He is best known for his association with Robert Nighthawk. He was not especially noted as a guitarist or singer, but Nighthawk showed gratitude to Stackhouse, his guitar teacher, by backing him on a number of recordings in the late 1960s. Apart from a brief tour in Europe, Stackhouse confined his performing to the area around the Mississippi Delta.

Cherry Street Historic District (Helena–West Helena, Arkansas) United States historic place

The Cherry Street Historic District is a historic neighborhood, commercial, and entertainment district serving as the downtown of Helena, Arkansas. Cherry Street is located between Elm Street and the nearby Phillips County Courthouse to the north, and Porter Street to the south. The history of Cherry Street is tied to the blues heritage of the area beginning in the 1940s.

Briggs Farm Blues Festival is an annual event that takes place near Hazleton, Pennsylvania in the town of Nescopeck, Nescopeck Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania since the summer of 1998. The festival is hosted every July on the farmland owned by the Briggs family.


  1. Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 219. ISBN   1-85868-255-X.
  2. Koon, David. "Fighting over a 'Biscuit' | Arkansas Reporter | Arkansas news, politics, opinion, restaurants, music, movies and art". Retrieved 2015-08-31.
  3. Richard Skelly (1956-04-17). "Lonnie Shields | Biography & History". AllMusic . Retrieved 2015-12-14.