Etta Baker performs on the Old Marble Stage – White Springs, Florida (1994)
Although she hailed from Caldwell County, North Carolina, we’d like to remember Piedmont blues guitarist Etta Baker, born March 31, 1913. She was first recorded in 1956 by folk singer Paul Clayton. These recordings of her gently plucked finger style influenced many artists, including Bob Dylan and Taj Mahal, but Etta never released an album of her own until her 1991 One Dime Blues.
Upon retiring from the textile mill where she worked most of her life, Etta Baker began touring extensively, including a stop at the 1994 Florida Folk Festival. Please enjoy this recording of the first song Etta learned at the age of 3, “Railroad Bill,” captured at the Old Marble Stage.
Before her death at the age of 93, Etta Baker received prestigious recognitions for her talent, including the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, and recorded two more albums—one of which was a collaborative effort with Taj Mahal.
Cortez is a small commercial fishing village in Manatee County, Florida. The village itself is no larger than 10 blocks, yet their annual commercial fishing festival draws crowds numbering in the thousands. Despite its size, Cortez boasts a wealth of culture, including some fine traditional music.
Oystering communities around the world take pride in the quality and freshness of their succulent bivalves, and Apalachicola is no exception. With its brackish waters and calm winds, Apalachicola Bay is a prime setting for both oysters and the industry built around them to thrive.
Young boy enjoying oyster at the Florida Seafood Festival – Apalachicola, Florida
The people of Apalachicola possess skills, beliefs, and a spirit of generosity and perseverance that make the community unique. Crafts such as boat building or oyster tong making are passed down through generations, as are techniques for harvesting and shucking the oysters. Successful seafood distributors make the product available to the many restaurants and retailers in the region, and the community celebrates its heritage during the annual Florida Seafood Festival.
Miss Florida Seafood 1974, Rosalie Nichols, at the Florida Seafood Festival
Florida’s diverse communities support a wide number of traditions, both native to the state and brought from afar. One such example of the latter is the traditional Indian music and dance performed by Jaya Radhakrishnan of Dade City. Mrs. Radhakrishnan, frequently accompanied by her daughter Nila, made several appearances at the Florida Folk Festival, and both have participated in the Florida Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program teaching others East Indian dance and rangoli.
Jaya Radhakrishnan and unidentified man performing Indian music at the 1982 Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida
This podcast features performances by Jaya Radhakrishnan at the Florida Folk Festival from 1982-1985. She sings Indian folk songs from a repertoire spanning hundreds of years, accompanied only by the drone of her harmonium and occasional percussion from her son. Take a listen, and enjoy the sounds of India as they carry on through the Sunshine State.
Jaya Radhakrishnan teaching East Indian dance to children at the 1989 Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida
Moses Williams playing the diddley bow in Waverly, Florida.
Moses Williams (1919-1988) was born February 15 in Itta Bena, Mississippi. He spent much of his life traveling, either in show business or working as an itinerant farm worker, which eventually brought him to Florida.
Moses Williams playing the diddley bow for a group of boys in Waverly, Florida.
At the age of 11, he learned the harmonica, but it was his one-string zither, or “diddley bow,” that made him unique. The instrument was comprised of a broom wire tensioned upside a door with a tin can resonator and played with glass bottle slide. It earned him nicknames like “Broom Wire Slim” and “Doorman.”
Moses Williams playing the diddley bow in White Springs, Florida.
Moses was discovered by folklorist Dwight DeVane in the late 1970s, and he appeared on the Florida Folklife Program’s 1981 double LP, Drop on Down in Florida, which was reissued by Dust-to-Digital. In addition to these recordings, Moses made several appearances at the Florida Folk Festival, schools, and other folk arts forums around the state.
Don Grooms at the 1988 Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, Florida
Don Grooms was a favorite among fans of Florida Folk, and appeared regularly at the Florida Folk Festival. Although he was born in Cherokee, North Carolina, Grooms spent much of his life in Florida, and taught journalism at the University of Florida. He received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1996 for his songs filled with wit and dry humor inspired by Florida and Native American life. In addition to live performances, which often found him on stage with like-minded artists such as Chief Jim Billie, fiddler Wayne Martin, and Will McLean, he recorded some his best-known songs on the 1980 album Walk Proud My Son.
In honor of his birthday, here are some recordings of Don Grooms and friends from the Florida Folklife Collection.
“Walk Proud My Son”
The 1977 Portable Folk Festival was organized by the National Folk Festival Association as a way to showcase musicians from the Southeastern United States. The tour, hosted by folklorists Guy Carawan and Cece Conway, featured bluesman Johnny Shines from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, coal miner and balladeer Nimrod Workman, Bessie and Vanessa Jones of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, and the North Carolina-based Red Clay Ramblers string band.
People dancing at the Portable Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida
With a grant from the Florida Bicentennial Commission, the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center curated the Series of American Folk Music in 1977. In addition to the Portable Folk Festival, the series also brought Pete Seeger, Doc and Merle Watson, Jean Ritchie, and the Kingston Trio to the Stephen Foster Memorial amphitheater.
Johnny Shines (R) playing banjo with folksinger/guitarist Guy Carawan at the Portable Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida
This podcast features performance highlights from Johnny Shines, Nimrod Workman, Bessie and Vanessa Jones and the Red Clay Ramblers recorded April 16, 1977, at the Portable Folk Festival.
Florida was the only southern state to experience an increase in its African-American population in the first half of the 20th century. At a time when many southern black Americans were moving North in search of a better life, African-Americans from other parts of the South migrated to the Sunshine State due to its warm climate and the hope of year-round employment opportunities in the state’s varied agricultural industries.
View of workers harvesting oranges – Winter Garden, Florida
With this migration came distinct cultural traditions, in which music—both sacred and secular—played a large role. In the late 1970s, the Florida Folklife Program retraced the groundbreaking fieldwork conducted in the 1930s by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration in Florida. This project involved identifying and recording folk artists maintaining African-American sacred and secular music traditions in the same communities documented by Zora Neale Hurston, Stetson Kennedy and other fieldworkers approximately 50 years earlier. The result was a double LP released in 1981 titled Drop on Down in Florida: Recent Field Recordings of Afro-American Traditional Music. Although the records were a valuable educational tool, they had relatively small impact at the time, and have been long unavailable to the public.
Moses Williams playing the diddley bow at a vegetable stand – Waverly, Florida
In 2012, the Florida Folklife Program, the State Archives of Florida and Dust-to-Digital, a Grammy award-winning record label, collaborated to release Drop on Down in Florida: Field Recordings of African American Traditional Music 1977 – 1980. This is an expanded book and two-CD reissue of the double LP the Folklife Program released in 1981. The original audio recordings and many of the photographs from the fieldwork conducted for Drop on Down in Florida are now part of the Florida Folklife Collection housed at the State Library and Archives of Florida.
M.L. Long leading sacred harp singing at S.E. Alabama & Florida Union Sacred Harp Sing – Campbellton, Florida
To celebrate the completion of this project, we’ve created a podcast with State Folklorist and co-editor of the book, Blaine Waide, detailing some of the work involved in the reissue process, as well as previewing a selection of field recordings made for Drop on Down in Florida. You can learn more about Drop on Down in Florida: Field Recordings of African American Traditional Music 1977 – 1980 by visiting Dust-to-Digital’s website.
Sir Charles Atkins, also known as Professor of the Blues, has been letting us know that “the blues is alright” since he first sat down at the communal piano in his dorm at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine. Atkins is a notable performer, recording artist and teacher. He’s toured the country and shared the stage with multiple groups including the D and B Romeos, who he joined at the School for the Deaf and the Blind, and the Blues Boys. When he’s not playing out live or in the studio, the Professor of the Blues teaches the Blues Lab at Florida State University. In addition to teaching at FSU, Atkins also participated in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program (1995-96). Charles Atkins was awarded the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 2002 for his musical accomplishments and willingness to share his knowledge and experience with others.
In honor of his birthday, please enjoy two selections from Sir Charles Atkins’ appearances at the Florida Folk Festival:
“Key to the Highway”
To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is September 15 through October 15, this month’s podcast spotlights two talented Venezuelan harp players: José Palmi and Jesús Rodríguez. Both musicians immigrated to Florida and have enriched American culture by sharing their unique tradition through performances and apprenticeships.
José Palmi playing harp
The harp was introduced to Latin America by Spanish missionaries primarily during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was adopted into the indigenous music of the continent as both a solo instrument and accompaniment for vocalists and instrumental ensembles. Many varieties of harp thrive throughout Venezuela, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico.
In Venezuela, the celebratory joropo, with its regional variations, is perhaps the most prominent type of traditional music from los llanos, or plains. Its rhythm is in triple meter like a waltz, but driven by syncopation and a fast-paced tempo—well suited for quick-footed couple dancing. The type of harp corresponding to this region is known as arpa llanera, on which Palmi and Rodríguez play many examples of Venezuela’s música llanera, or music of the plains.
Jesús Rodríguez playing the Venezuelan harp- Naples, Florida
The performances featured in this podcast were recorded on two separate occasions. José Palmi was recorded to digital audio tape at his home in Miami on June 27, 1993. Jesús Rodríguez, accompanied by his seven year-old-son Henry on maracas, was recorded to open reel tape at the 1986 Florida Folk Festival.
Florida Memory is funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Florida Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services.