Inaugural Festival Celebrates Black Music, Culture

Music Moves has curated two days of free performances by artists from a variety of genres.

UAPB Marching Band standing in formation on the football field in formation
The UAPB Marching Band will open the Arkansas Black Expo Apr. 15. Photo courtesy of UAPB.

Music Moves — a nonprofit organization making Black music accessible through performance and education — hopes to fill a gap in programming in Northwest Arkansas with the inaugural Arkansas Black Music Expo Apr. 15-16. The two-day celebration in Springdale was inspired, in part, by the Hispanic community, program director Anthony Ball says.

“They do a really, really good job of bringing their community together and celebrating their culture and sharing it with the greater Northwest Arkansas [region],” he says. “So in turn, I was like man, we need to do the same thing. We have just as big of an impact on the arts.”

The free, family-friendly event kicks off at The Jones Center Friday with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Marching Band who will lead a parade, followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony. While a large audience was introduced to the Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South when the UAPB football team faced the University of Arkansas Razorbacks at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium in the fall, Ball says many in the region have not seen them in person. 

“There’s no greater ambassador of our art than HBCUs,” he says. “It was also time for us to bring them to Northwest Arkansas because most people have never seen them live before, so we’re really excited.” 

Inspired by Summer of Soul, an Academy Award-winning documentary film covering the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, Ball wanted to curate “a buffet of the Black experience” by selecting performers from a variety of genres including Gospel, funk and hip hop. 

Musicians scheduled to perform at the Arkansas Black Music Expo include Grammy Award nominees Carl Thomas and Kirk Whalum, as well as local performers Rochelle Bradshaw and Hypnotion, Funk Factory and the St. James Missionary Baptist Church Mass choir. While he’s mindful of bringing national acts to gain attention in what he hopes will become an annual event, Ball also wanted to highlight local talent from the region.

“I didn’t want to create a Memphis Black experience. I don’t want to create a Houston Black experience. I wanted to create a Northwest Arkansas music festival,” he says.

The inaugural Arkansas Black Music Expo is Friday and Saturday at The Jones Center in Springdale. Admission is free to the event which attractions for children and food trucks, the majority of which are minority-owned.

More information is available at

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.