Native American Legends Presented by Fort Smith Symphony


On Saturday evening April 22, attendees of the Fort Smith Symphony will have the opportunity to experience a truly historic, once-in-a-lifetime musical event – possibly the first orchestral concert featuring music by a historic Native American concert composer.

Louis Wayne Ballard (1931 – 2007) is recognized as the first Native American concert composer. Born of Quapaw and Cherokee parents near Miami, Oklahoma, his work as a performer, composer, music educator and arts administrator was dedicated to bringing living Indigenous culture to the forefront of Western consciousness and understanding. Ballard’s early childhood was spent in Indian training schools that generally discouraged any recognition of native peoples, yet he always maintained an insatiable enthusiasm for his history, speaking his native language and participating in tribal dances for which he was often punished.

Valedictorian of his graduating class, Ballard continued his music studies throughout his time at various universities and he continued composition studies as well as teaching duties at the prestigious Aspen Music Festival from 1957 – 1972. Ballard also served as the music director of the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico and was appointed national curriculum specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. His many accomplishments as a music educator included publishing American Indian Music for the Classroom, a curriculum of musical instruction, based on Native American folk music. His interest in Native Americans in the arts included his own film production company, hiring only Indigenous actors and promoting a more realistic portrayal of Native Americans in Hollywood.

Most significantly however, was his work as a composer, with works ranging from large-scale orchestra pieces to intimate works for solo piano. His style is totally unique combining traditional Western musical styles with Indigenous musical idioms. Indigenous influences in his works are often very noticeable with the inclusion of original Native American folk tunes in the music and the use of Native American instruments such as the Native flute and percussion.

Working with Louis Ballard’s granddaughter, Simone Ballard and Ballard scholar, Karl Erik Ettinger, the Fort Smith Symphony will present an all-Louis Ballard symphony concert on Saturday, April 22 at the ArcBest Performing Arts Center in downtown Fort Smith. This event marks the first time a symphony orchestra has dedicated an entire concert to a historic Native American concert composer.

Naxos Records, the world’s leading classical music label, will record the Fort Smith Symphony in studio with these works. These world-premiere recordings mark the symphony’s fifth commercial recording for Naxos following successful recordings of the music of Florence Price and William Grant Still. Still and Price, both Arkansans, were the first African American male and female concert composers respectfully. The recording of Price’s Symphony No. 1 and 4 played a major part in the international rediscovery of her music. It is hoped that the Louis Ballard recording will have a similar impact. Although there is nothing like live music, recordings offer the chance to share music with millions around the world. The symphony’s previous recordings have streaming numbers in the multi-millions and are aired nationally and internationally daily.

The concert and recording will feature an orchestra of one hundred members performing five orchestral pieces that demonstrate Ballard’s wide-ranging skills. A pre-concert lecture by Karl Erik Ettinger will begin at 6:15pm followed by a post-concert after party with live music at the Bakery District. During concert week, there will be school and civic presentations with Ettinger and Simone Ballard. The Fort Smith Symphony’s new “Perspectives” chamber music series has presented two programs which included Ballard’s music to great acclaim. The symphony also worked in collaboration with the Fort Smith Public Schools to include portions of Ballard’s works and his textbook in the elementary music syllabus for the 2022-2023 academic school year.

“Native American Legends” is the final performance of the symphony’s 2022-2023 concert season, a fitting conclusion to an exciting season that leads to an incredible milestone, the symphony’s 100th Anniversary season!

This project would not be possible without the support of the Walter O. Caldwell Foundation, ArcBest Corporation, as well as many generous corporate and individual sponsors. For tickets and further information about this event, visit:

Do South Magazine

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