Alphonso Trent – Local Documentary Teaches Ft. Smith History

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A local documentary about Alphonso Trent is being released. Trent was a jazz musician from Fort Smith who successfully broke through racial barriers nearly 100 years ago, by simply playing the piano. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find pictures or recordings of the pianist, and that’s why local filmmakers are doing their part to tell Trent’s story.

When it comes to the history of Fort Smith, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Many are familiar with the Trail of Tears, “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker and, of course, the U.S. Marshals. However, not many people so much as recognize the name Alphonso Trent. If dig deep enough, though, you’ll learn about the talented musician who never let the color of his skin keep him from performing.

“[Trent was part of] the first black orchestra in the United States, first jazz singer to lead an orchestra in the United States, first orchestra ever to be on radio in Dallas at The Adolphus Hotel,” John McIntosh said. “It was a lot of groundbreaking music at the time.”

McIntosh, executive producer for the new film, has been doing research on Trent for years, and he says there’s still plenty of work to be done.

“A lot of the history of Trent is buried somewhere, and we can’t find it,” McIntosh said. “So we were really worried that if we waited five more years, there would be no one to talk about this - to fill in the blanks. And there's still history to surface.”

But, thanks to McIntosh and the ongoing efforts of his colleagues, the research is paying off. They finally completed a 30 minute documentary, helping to preserve yet another unique piece of Fort Smith history.

“It took awhile to bring this together. We had to raise the money, then get it in the bank. Then, we went to work. We shot this last fall at the King Opera House in Van Buren, and we finally got it edited this week,” McIntosh said.

“This is just an amazing story,” Leisa Gramlich, executive director of the Fort Smith Museum of History, said. “A lot of people don't really know the whole story, and that’s important and very much part of Fort Smith history.”

So it only makes sense to show the new film right there in downtown, at the Fort Smith Museum of History.

“This is about a Fort Smith person and produced by Fort Smith people. We're very excited,” Gramlich said.

The film premieres at the Fort Smith Museum of History, Saturday, February 27th at 1 P.M. It’s free with the price of admission, which is just $7 for adults and $2 for children. The proceeds will be used to fund the ongoing operations of the museum.