Arkansas is a small state, but some big names have lived here.
Here is a list of a few of the most famous people from Arkansas.
Famous People From Arkansas
Politicians, Activists, and Military Personnel
We will start with a list of politicians, activists, and military personnel from Arkansas.
I think most of us would agree that of all the famous people from Arkansas the most well known globally is one of the former presidents of the United States and his family.
William Jefferson Clinton B: 1946 (Hilary and Chelsea Clinton)
Ex-President Bill Clinton was born in the small town of Hope, Arkansas leading to the memorable campaign slogan, “The Man From Hope.” He was raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas and attended Yale Law School.
After serving as governor of Arkansas, Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States from 1993-2001. You can visit his presidential library in downtown Little Rock.
His wife Hilary Rodham Clinton, who is famous in her own right, was not originally from Arkansas but spent many years in the state with her husband. Their daughter Chelsea was born in Little Rock.
Hattie Carraway (1878 – 1950)
You might not have heard of Hattie Carraway, but she is actually a very important political figure who deserves to be more well known.
Her husband was a Senator who died in office in 1931 and Hattie took his place. She then won the next election, becoming the first woman ever “elected” to the U.S. Senate.
Caraway also became the first woman to preside over the Senate, first woman Senate Committee chairman, first woman senior Senator, and first woman to conduct a Senate Committee hearing. She served until 1945.
On February 21, 2001 she became the first female Arkansan to ever appear on a postage stamp. Her gravesite in Jonesboro is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Winthrop Rockefeller (1912-1973)
Winthrop Rockefeller was from the famously wealthy Rockefeller family. Although born in New York he adopted Arkansas as his home after serving in WWII.
He lived on Petit Jean Mountain (which is now a state park) where he established Winrock Enterprises and Winrock Farms. He served as governor of Arkansas from 1967 to 1971 and was the first Republican governor since the Civil War.
The legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller lives on in the form of charities, scholarships, and the activities. Winrock International is an international nonprofit organization based in Little Rock, whose mission is to “empower disadvantaged people, increase economic opportunity, and sustain natural resources.”
Martha Mitchell (1918-1976)
Martha Mitchell from Pine Bluff, Arkansas was recognized world wide because of her outspokenness during the watergate scandal. Her husband, John Mitchell, managed Nixon’s campaign and then was appointed attorney general during Nixon’s first term.
Although she wasn’t a politician she made herself known by calling reporters at all hours of the day to comment on particular issues, including relaying information about the Nixon administration’s corrupt activities.
Her nickname became “The Mouth of the South.”
Nixon said at one point, “If it hadn’t been for Martha Mitchell, there’d have been no Watergate.”
Douglas MacArthur (1880 – 1964)
Douglas MacArthur was born in Little Rock and became an American general who commanded the Southwest Pacific in World War II. He was a larger-than-life, but sometimes controversial figure.
MacArthur was talented, outspoken and, in the eyes of many, egotistical.
But perhaps he had reason to be? MacArthur was first in his graduating class at West Point in 1903 and was one of the most highly decorated American soldiers in World War I.
You can visit the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History in Little Rock.
It might surprise you to know that some of the wealthiest business people in the world got their start in the small state of Arkansas.
Sam Walton and the Walton family(1918 – 1922)
There are some pretty well-known business people from Arkansas but Sam Walton has to be the first mentioned! He is not only one of the most famous businessmen but also one of the most famous people from Arkansas.
Sam Walton started his discount store, Wal-Mart, in Bentonville Arkansas. Which is now one of the largest retailers in the world.
The Walton children are three of the richest people in Arkansas and usually are in the top 10 in the USA. Daughter, Alice Walton, built the world class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
William T. Dillard (1914 – 2002)
William Thomas Dillard was the founder of Dillard’s, Inc., one of the nation’s largest fashion apparel and home-furnishings retailers.
He was born in Mineral Springs, Arkansas and opened his first store in Nashville, Arkansas.
J. B. Hunt (1927 – 2006)
Johnnie Bryan Hunt was born in Heber Springs, Arkansas and is the founder of the J.B. Hunt Transport Services which is one of the largest freight transportation trucking companies in the world.
The company is based in Northwest Arkansas.
John H Johnson
John H Johnson was born in Arkansas City, Arkansas. Johnson was the founder in 1942 of the Johnson Publishing Company, which is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.
He was also the first African American to appear on the Forbes 400.
Jerry Jones is one of the most famous people from Arkansas. Although I am including him in the famous businessmen section of this post, he was also a well known athlete within the state.
Jones attended the University of Arkansas where he was co-captain of Arkansas’ 1964 national championship football team.
He is currently most well known now for being the owner, president, and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys football team since 1989. Jones is one of a very small number of NFL owners who had a significant level of success as a football player.
Jones is the owner of several other businesses in addition to the Cowboys.
The south is known for having amazing story tellers and authors. Here are a few from Arkansas.
John Grisham is one of the most famous people from Arkansas and definitely one of the most famous authors.
He was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas and worked as an attorney and a Mississippi state legislator before becoming a best selling novelist.
His books are almost all set in the south and have a strong sense of place. His book The Firm was a huge success and began Grisham’s journey to become one of the all-time best selling novelists in the US.
The Painted House is a work of fiction but was inspired by Grisham’s childhood in Arkansas.
Some might argue with me for including Maya Angelou as being “from” Arkansas.
She was born in St. Louis but she spent several of her childhood years living with her grandmother in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas.
Her books tell of her childhood experiences both in Arkansas and beyond. Angelou’s first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, tells of her life up to the age of 17.
She is one of my favorite authors of all time.
Charles Portis (1933-2020)
Charles Portis was born in El Dorado, Arkansas and graduated from the the University of Arkansas. Although he wrote several books he is best known for his masterpiece, True Grit.
True Grit has sold copies into the millions and was made into films in 1969 and 2010
He became known for his deadpan, but amusing dialogue and wry observations on American culture.
Gilchrist is a Mississippi native who currently lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was a faculty member at the University of Arkansas for many years.
Gilchrist was the winner of the 1984 National Book Award for Fiction for her collection of short stories, Victory Over Japan.
She has been declared “a national treasure” by the Washington Post for her various works,
Singers and Musicians
Many of the most famous people from Arkansas were musicians. We also have a list on the blog of some of the songs that mention Arkansas that you can check out.
Johnny Cash (1932 – 2003)
Johnny Cash is not just one of the most famous musicians from Arkansas, he is one of the most famous people from Arkansas.
Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas and grew up in the small town Dyess, Arkansas where you can still visit his childhood home.
He was a world-renowned singer/songwriter with a body of work that will be heard and remembered for generations to come.
Glen Campbell (1936 – 2017)
Glen Campbell was a farm boy from Delight, Arkansas. He received his first guitar at age four and was performing in public by age six.
Campbell was known for having a pure, clear voice but was also one of the premier guitarists of the era. He and his music were both successful and critically acclaimed.
Al Green was born in 1946 in Forest City, Arkansas.
He was the most popular performer of soul music in the 1970s and is sometimes said to be “the last of the great soul singers.”
“Let’s Stay Together” was his biggest hit, reaching number one on both the rhythm-and-blues and pop charts in 1972.
Scott Joplin (1868 – 1917)
Joplin is also known as the “King of Ragtime.” He was born in Texarkana, Arkansas to a family of railroad laborers.
Joplin traveled the south as an itinerant musician and then played in Chicago for the World’s Fair of 1893. It is said that his music played a major part in making ragtime a national craze by 1897.
He began publishing music in 1895 including the well known “Maple Leaf Rag.”
Levon Helm (1940-2012)
Levon Helm was best known as the drummer and gravely voiced singer for the rock group The Band. However, his career stretched in many different directions. He was also a solo artist, a fine singer, and played many different instruments.
He even acted in motion pictures playing the father of Loretta Lynn in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter
Hel grew up in Marvell, Arkansas working on his family’s cotton farm but always knew that he wanted to become a musician.
Ne-Yo, also known as Shaffer Chimere Smith Jr. is one of the most prominent and active Arkansas-born recording artists and songwriters in recent years.
He was born in Camden, Arkansas and began writing songs at the age of 5.
He first received acclaim as a songwriter and then became a performer.
Ne-Yo is a remarkable talent who has written songs for Beyonce, Rhianna, Celine Dion and many others.
Black Oak Arkansas
Black Oak Arkansas is a southern rock band named after their home town.
They reached the height of their fame in the 1970’s and were known for their multiple guitar players and the raspy voice and on-stage antics of vocalist Jim Mangrum who was known as Jim Dandy.
Here are some of the famous people from Arkansas who happen to be actors.
Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton is one of the best known of the Arkansas actors. He was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas and after a number of small roles Thornton found acclaim with his movie Sling Blade.
He wrote the screen play, directed, and starred in the film and won an Oscar for best screenplay and an Oscar nomination for best actor. Since then he has established himself as a talented and versatile actor.
Thornton is also known for his eccentric personality and for having once been married to actress Angelina Jolie.
Mary Steenburgen is a well-known actress who was born in Newport, Arkansas and grew up in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
She has played a wide range of roles including the president’s mother, Hannah Nixon, in Nixon, to school teacher Clara Clayton in Back to the Future III, and seductress Betty Carver in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Steenburgen won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Lynda Dummar in Melvin and Howard (1980).
The role I most remember actress Lisa Blount for was in the film Officer and a Gentleman.
When her character, Lynette, said the line, “I don’t want no Okie from Muskogee! I can get that right here!” I remember thinking familiar her accent sounded even though the movie wasn’t set anywhere near the south.
Blount was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas and grew up in Jacksonville, Arkansas.
Alan Ladd Jr., a Hot Springs, Arkansas native was a movie actor who starred in forty-seven films, mostly in the 1940s and 1950s.
He often portrayed a solitary hero with a conscience and is best known for his title role in the classic western Shane.
Josh Lucas was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. He spent much of his younger years traveling the south with his parents who were antinuclear activists.
Lucas moved to Hollywood shortly after his high school graduation and began his career at the age of 19. He appeared as a guest star on several TV sitcoms in his early 20s and has acted in many films one of which was Sweet Home Alabama.
He is most recently known for playing a young John Dutton in the hit television show Yellowstone.
Wes Bentley is another Arkansas native acting in the Paramount Network original television series Yellowstone. He plays the character, Jamie Dutton.
He is also known for his roles as Ricky Fitts in American Beauty, Seneca Crane in The Hunger Games, and Erik in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
You will recognize him from other television shows as well.
Bentley was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas and raised in Little Rock.
There are many well-known athletes who are famous people from Arkansas.
Here are a few of the most well-known athletes from Arkansas.
Scottie Pippen is considered one of the great small forwards of all time in the NBA. He helped Michael Jordan transform the Chicago Bulls into a championship team. In fact, he won 6 NBA championships with the Bulls.
Scottie was the 12th child born to Ethel and Preston Pippen in Hamburg, Arkansas. He attended college at the Univerity of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas.
John Daly is a golfer who is known not only for his golfing ability, particularly the length of his drives off of the tee, but also for his unorthodox style and eccentric attitude.
He turned pro in 1987 and joined the PGA in 1991 winning the PGA championship that same year.
Daly’s family moved to Dardanelle, Arkansas when he was 4 years old.
Sonny Liston was a professional boxer from 1953 – 1970 who was born in St. Francis County in Arkansas. He became the heavy weight champion of the world in 1962.
People thought Sonny Liston might be unbeatable, but a young Cassius Clay defeated him in 1964. Some controversy followed him through the ending years of his career and life. There were rumors of fixed fights and underworld connections.
These rumors were not helped by the fact that he mysteriously died in 1970.
Sidney Moncrief is one of my favorite of the famous people in Arkansas. I grew up watching him play basketball for the Razorbacks.
After college Moncrief played 11 seasons in the NBA mostly with the Milwaukee Bucks. He is considered to be one of the top all round players from the 80’s and was especially known for his unrelenting defensive play.
Moncrief was born in Little Rock, Arkansas
Bear Bryant might be most well known from coaching at the University of Alabama. However, Bryant is from Arkansas.
He was born in Cleveland County Arkansas and attended high school in Fordyce. He played on the school team and helped lead them to a state football championship. He is said to have gotten his name by agreeing to wrestle with a captive carnival bear at the age of 13.
Bear Bryant is considered by many to be the best football coach of all time.
Lou Brock was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985. He was considered baseball’s most dangerous player for more than a decade.
He was particularly known for his speed and ability to steal bases. After being traded to the Cardinals he had a stretch of 12 seasons where he averaged 65 steals and 99 runs a year.
Brock was born in El Dorado, Arkansas
Brandon Burlsworth is famous with football fans both in Arkansas and nationally.
Brandon, from the town of Harrison, began his football career as a walk-on for the University of Arkansas. By the time he graduated with his masters degree he had a scholarship and had been selected for the college football All American Team.
After being drafted in the third round by the Indianapolis Colts. Burlsworth was killed in a car accident only 11 days later.
The movie, Greater, tells the story of his tragically short life.
The Burlsworth trophy is now presented each year to college football’s most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on.
Mark Martin is a retired stock car racing driver from Batesville, Arkansas. ESPN has called him “the greatest driver to never win a championship.” However, Mark Martin still had a legendary career.
He came close to that elusive title on several occasions finishing second in the championship standings 5 times.
He is in the NASCAR hall of fame and has been named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
Architects From Arkansas
E. Fay Jones
E. Fay Jones is the most famous architect from Arkansas. He studied under Frank Lloyd Wright carrying on his mentor’s tradition of organic design.
In Arkansas he is mostly known for having designed or influenced the famous glass chapels in the state.
Celebrities From Arkansas
Bobby Bones is a radio and television personality. He is known for his syndicated radio show, The Bobby Bones Show, and for being a mentor on the television show, American Idol.
Bones was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas and raised in the small town of Mountain Pine. He often speaks of his impoverished childhood as being a motivating factor for his current success.
P. Allen Smith
P. Allen Smith is a lifestyle expert and television host who promotes good stewardship of the earth. He is one of America’s most noted gardening and design experts.
Smith was born in Little Rock and is a 4th generation nurseryman and horticulturist.
The Duggar Family
This once famous, now infamous, larger than normal family live in northwest Arkansas. They were featured for many years on a TLC show called 19 Kids and Counting. The patriarch of the family has served in the Arkansas House of Representatives.
In recent years some awful things about the oldest son have come to light. These scandals caused their show to be pulled from the air.
I hope that you have enjoyed this list of some of the most famous people in Arkansas!
It is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but if there is anyone that you think I MUST include then let me know!
Thanks for stopping by.