A sad day for Phillips County and the rest of the Arkansas Delta — the beloved “Sunshine” Sonny Payne has passed away.
Sonny Payne, born John William Payne on November 29, 1925, in Helena, was the longtime host of “King Biscuit Time,” a radio broadcast in Phillips County that was essential in popularizing blues music.
He began his radio career at KFFA 1360 AM radio station in 1942, when after a mishap with the station's announcer, Sonny had to quickly read a live commercial. After leaving and returning to the radio scene for various reasons, Sonny became the host of the King Biscuit Time program in 1951 and was still involved until recently.
King Biscuit Time, the longest-running daily blues radio show in the world, first hit the airwaves in 1941, born of an idea between Robert Lockwood Jr., a young blues guitarist, and Sonny Boy Williamson, a Delta blues singer and songwriter. The two pitched the idea to KFFA's station manager and announcer, Sam Anderson, who found a sponsor in King Biscuit Flour, and the legendary show began.
Payne's long list of accomplishments include being inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame, the George Foster Peabody Award, Arkansas Broadcasters Association's Pioneer Award, and twice the recipient of Blues Foundation's Keeping the Blues Alive Award. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2014, then-Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe declared May 13 to be “Sunshine” Sonny Payne Day.
Sonny recently suffered a stroke and was in the Crestpark Nursing Home. He turned 92 last December.