While doing research for a photo exhibit about movies made in Northwest Arkansas, I came across an interesting tidbit which I promised myself that, when I had time, I’d explore a bit further. Most times I end up dropping the ball, but this time was different. Maybe because I was researching the fascinating saga of Wonder Valley, a film largely made in Cave Springs and likely lost to posterity. (You can read more about Wonder Valley in the May 2015 issue of our museum newsletter.) The movie featured two tunes by the songwriting team of Pat and Marge Patrick of Springdale, a couple who enjoyed a late-in-life hobby penning songs.
Benjamin Birchard “Pat” Patrick (1901-1968) was born in Brookfield, Missouri. He was a World War I veteran, train engineer, and operator of Pat’s Hatchery, first in Durant, Oklahoma, and later in Springdale. Margaret “Marge” Jane Hendrickson Patrick (1896-1974) was born in Pineville, Kentucky. She taught at Springdale Junior High and was a poet and a member of the National League of American Pen Women. The couple married in 1921 and had a daughter, Rosemary. They moved from Oklahoma to Springdale in October 1947.
The Patricks were a musical family. As a child, Rosemary knew all of the songs of her parents’ youth, such as “Peg o’ My Heart” and “Moonlight Bay.” Why? Because when the Patrick family took a road trip, they sang the miles away.
Pat and Marge likely began their songwriting career around 1950. While Marge had formal musical training and could play the piano and violin, Pat was untrained musically. But he could sing and tap out melodies on the piano, which Marge transcribed onto staff paper. Together they wrote the music and lyrics for about 300 songs, including “Smokey Mountain Gals,” “I’m Tired of Trifling,” and “Big Red,” a tune about the University of Arkansas’s famed mascot. They produced at least two 45 rpm records on their label, Patmar Records.
“Give Me Decatur” sung by Sammy Marshall (posted with permission of Rosemary Patrick Hash)
In 1951 the couple’s song, “Looking for a Ranch House (Where an Old Cow-Hand Can Stay),” was featured as a hit-song-of-the-week by Bill Bardo and his orchestra at the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa. The tune and an interview with the songwriters were broadcast on radio station KTUL.
That same year “Beautiful Arkansas” was selected as the theme song of the national Chicken-of-Tomorrow Contest, an event which promoted the breeding of a better, meatier bird. Nationally known bandleader Ted Weems and his orchestra played the tune at the Queen’s Ball in Fayetteville, with Glen West providing the vocal. The song was so enjoyed that an encore was given later in the evening.
When the Patricks heard that a movie was to be made in Northwest Arkansas, they hopped in their car and drove to Russellville, Arkansas, to speak with the film’s producer, Viva Ruth Liles. She bought the rights to two songs for Wonder Valley—“I Love Susie,” played during a square-dance sequence, and “Beautiful Arkansas,” sung by the film’s star, former child actress Gloria Jean. In recent years historians, Gloria Jean’s biographers, and Northwest Arkansas folks eager to view this time capsule of Cave Springs’s past have tried to find a copy of this long-lost film.
Turns out other folks are interested, too. David Miller, producer and host of Swingin’ Down the Lane on public radio station KUAR in Little Rock, fondly remembers actress Gloria Jean from his youth. While reading her biography he noticed “Beautiful Arkansas” on her song list. Because the Gloria Jean recording no longer exists, he arranged to have singer Elizabeth Ward Land record a beautiful rendition of the song for his program. Ms. Land has a successful theatrical career on the Broadway stage and in regional theaters. This summer she’ll appear in the Broadway debut of Amazing Grace. Our thanks go to Dr. Miller and Ms. Land who graciously shared their recording with us.
“Beautiful Arkansas” sung by Elizabeth Ward Land
In 1958 the Patricks traveled with a caravan from Missouri to San Francisco in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail. As part of the celebration the couple composed and published a souvenir folio of eight “historically correct” songs telling the story of the mail route. Titles included “Running the Mail,” “Moonlight on Phantom Hill,” and “Harness That Wild Mule.” They sold out of the first two production runs of their folio during the trip and placed an order for a third before the caravan reached San Francisco.
The Patricks wrote music for pleasure and, I think, the opportunity to take a musical journey through life. Because of their songs, they had a chance to work with moviemakers, festival organizers, big-band leaders, musicians, radio announcers, and record makers, having fun along the way.
I’ve had fun, too, on my historical journey, piecing together their story through newspaper accounts, census records, Internet searches, museum artifacts, and a conversation with Rosemary Patrick Hash. The tidbit I started with is like a musical note, part of the greater song that is Pat and Marge Patrick.