Voting begins for Song of Arkansas Contest

The entries are in, the celebrity judges have spoken and seven musicians are now vying to see whose tune will be chosen as the Song of Arkansas contest winner.

The promotion by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism began the week of Thanksgiving and ran through Jan. 24. The competition gave artists the chance to come up with an original song about Arkansas. Through YouTube and Soundcloud, these pieces were entered.

Over the past couple of weeks, a panel of celebrity judges reviewed the entries and selected not five but seven finalists to compete for the prize. The judges included rock and roll pioneer Sonny Burgess, Broadway performer Lawrence Hamilton, award-winning director Jason Moore, Jimmy Buffett Coral Reefer Band member Mike Utley and The Wolf 105.1-FM morning show team Bob Robbins and Jennifer Trafford.

More than 230 entries were received for the contest. The finalists:

“A.R.K.A.N.S.A.S. Get There From Here”
Barrett Baber with Kenny Lamb

The son of a Baptist preacher, Barrett grew up with music in the church, growing into choral music and eventually heading to Ouachita Baptist University, where he learned songwriting and how to play the guitar. He left OBU to head to Nashville to apprentice as a songwriter then returned to Arkansas to complete his education. While at the University of Central Arkansas, he met his wife. After working in advertising in Little Rock and Fayetteville, Barrett turned to a new pursuit, teaching debate and forensics to students at Fayetteville High School, two years ago.

“Come Home to Arkansas”
Chana Caylor

The spa director who works in Mount Ida today started out playing piano when she was just 8 years old. By the age of 12, she was singing and playing piano in church. A lifelong Hot Springs native, Chana has performed in piano bars and entertainment venues both inside and outside the Spa City. The musical repertoire of the married mother of three includes everything from Billie Holiday to Whitney Houston to Patsy Cline. She’s working on her first original album.

“Arkansas Y’all”
Blane Howard

Blane’s family moved to Hot Springs when he was 2. He grew up singing and developed a deep love of songwriting. After high school he left for Nashville to get his degree in music from Belmont College. Today he’s a full-time musician with one EP already released, “‘Bout Time.” He heard about the Song of Arkansas contest from his mom when he came home for the holidays.

“Here in Arkansas”
Jeremy Huddleston

Jeremy lived his entire life in Russellville until heading to southern California last June to plant a new church with three other families. Before that, he was on staff at the Journey Church in Russellville for nine years and the drummer for local Christian act Nick and Sam. Jeremy and his two sons love hiking Petit Jean Mountain, Mount Nebo, Mount Magazine and all around the Arkansas River Valley. While the ocean views are pleasant in California, he misses the woods and trails of Arkansas.

“Right Here in Arkansas”
Matt Knoble

Matt has always been around music – growing up in Haskell (near Benton) and playing trumpet in the band at Harmony Grove High School. After four years in the University of Arkansas Marching Razorback Band he and his wife relocated to the Bentonville area. Today, Matt teaches fifth grade Social Studies and plays guitar in the worship ministry at church.

“Here in Arkansas”
Candy Lee

Candy graduated from Florida Girls State University and moved to Arkansas after friends in Fayetteville sent her photographs of the Ozarks. She fell in love with the beauty of The Natural State and relocated. The waitress and folk jazz artist has been involved with chorus throughout her life, and as an adult, she learned how to play the guitar. She loves riding her bike on paths throughout the Razorback Greenway and visiting Devil’s Den State Park. Her first album, "The Gate," was released in 2010; she’s currently recording her second.

“Natural State of Mind”
Pamela K. Ward

Pamela’s family has had a farm in McRae for over a hundred years. Her grandfather was involved with the Sugarloaf Opry, and she first took the stage to sing at the age of 2. She decided to take up the saxophone after seeing a performance at the Arkansas State Fair when she was 7. Growing up, she spent some weekends performing at the Ozark Folk Center and others on Beale Street in Memphis. During her career she’s tackled nearly every musical genre. Today, she lives and works in Nashville, Tenn.

Voting begins Monday, Feb. 10, and goes through noon Monday, Feb. 24, with one vote per email address. The winner will be announced on Monday, March 3. That musician will perform at the 40th Annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Rogers on Monday, March 10. The winner also receives a recording session and taping of a video of their winning entry along with $2,000. To vote, head to, listen to the finalists and select a favorite.

For more information on the Song of Arkansas, contact Kat Robinson, communications manager with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, at 501.682.7606 or [email protected].