Happy Birthday Zora Neale Hurston!

Acclaimed author, folklorist, and path-breaking anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston was born yesterday in about 1891.

Zora Neale Hurston, ca. 1930

Zora Neale Hurston, ca. 1930

Although most associated with the Harlem Renaissance and her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida and worked for the Federal Writers Project (FWP) in Florida, alongside Stetson Kennedy, in the 1930s and 1940s.

Hurston was among the first trained anthropologists to study African American culture in the American South. She incorporated her fieldwork into fiction and non-fiction writings. Hurston died in Fort Pierce, Florida in 1960.

Zora Neale Hurston, with Rochelle French and Gabriel Brown, Eatonville, 1935

Zora Neale Hurston, with Rochelle French and Gabriel Brown, Eatonville, 1935

Some of Hurston’s most important yet underappreciated contributions to American anthropology consist of work songs she gathered in Florida while working for the FWP. Listen to one of our favorites, collected by Hurston at a railroad construction camp near Lakeland in 1933.

Shove It Over, as performed by Zora Neal Hurston
[audio:http://floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/folklife/blog/hurston_shoveitover.mp3|titles= Shove It Over, as performed by Zora Neale Hurston |artists=State Archives of Florida] Download: MP3

Learn more: Zora Neale Hurston, the WPA in Florida, and the Cross City Turpentine Camp (online learning unit)

Blues Pianist Alexander McBride

The latest podcast from the State Archives of Florida highlights the life and music of blues pianist Alexander McBride.

Alex McBride performing at John E. Ford Elementary School, Jacksonville, 1991

Alex McBride performing at John E. Ford Elementary School, Jacksonville, 1991

Born in Jacksonville in 1913, McBride grew up in a household where gospel music was always in the air. His mother owned a piano, which she used strictly for spiritual music. Interestingly, McBride learned to play the piano from his mother, though she didn’t teach him herself. As a young boy, he recalled watching his mother practice. When she left, he would rush to the piano, replicating his mother’s technique. Once she heard her son’s talent, she began training and encouraging him to play at their local church.

Unbeknownst to his family, McBride became fond of blues music, which was banned in their home and church. That didn’t stop McBride. He would sneak out of the house and visit local juke joints to experience blues music, and before long, as a young teenager, he was playing local clubs and house parties. As an adult, he traveled around the Southeast, as well as to Chicago, playing primarily African American venues. In time, he earned the stage name “Piano Slim.”

Like fellow Florida native, and piano player, Ray Charles, McBride’s playing embodied both sacred and secular music. Both artists incorporated aspects of gospel into their blues, jazz, and R&B music to give their songs more profound emotional power. In the recordings selected for this podcast, McBride performs a moving rendition of Georgia on My Mind, made famous by Ray Charles. You will also hear McBride’s range of musical talent in Jazz Boogie, as he incorporates jazz and boogie-woogie into his repertoire.

McBride died in 1999, but he lived to see recognition for his contributions to Florida folk music. In 1997, he was presented the Florida Folk Heritage Award. McBride had a proactive desire to share his knowledge and talent by teaching and inspiring others. He participated in the Duval County Folklife in Education Program for 10 years by playing the piano for children in Duval County Public Schools.

Alexander McBride Podcast
[audio:http://floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/folklife/mp3/podcasts/mcbride.mp3|titles= Blues Pianist Alexander McBride, podcast by Derek Long |artists=State Archives of Florida] Download: MP3

For More Information:

Catalog record: Sunday performances at the 1993 Florida Folk Festival (Main Stage) (Tape 5)

Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources: 1997 Florida Folk Heritage Award

An Old Time Florida Fiddler

Our latest podcast features music and tall tales from Florida fiddler and story teller Richard Seaman (1904-2002).

Richard Seaman at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Richard Seaman at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Seaman was born on an orange grove in Kissimmee, Florida. While attending community gatherings as a young boy, he listened to local fiddlers as people square danced into the night. These experiences motivated him to pick up the fiddle and learn the craft. This environment was also conducive to the telling of “tall tales,” which Seaman later recounted and delivered to captivated audiences with an intuitive flair.

Over the years, Seaman developed a repertoire of fiddle tunes that included waltzes and western swing, but the “old time” hoedown tunes he learned as a young man exemplify his contribution to the regional heritage of Florida fiddle playing. Folklorist Gregory Hansen notes that Seaman’s fiddle tunes have influenced fiddlers from Florida and beyond, and even the genre of bluegrass music that this “old time” style of playing precedes.

In his early years of fiddle playing, Seaman moved to Jacksonville, where he performed in several bands, including the Melody Makers and the string band South Land Trail Riders. He and the Melody Makers also had a weekly radio program on WJAX. In 1955, Seaman put his fiddle down and didn’t pick it up again for more than 30 years until he met banjoist/guitarist Jack Piccalo. The two began to play together at the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs, and continued to do so regularly until Seaman’s death in 2002.

Richard Seaman (foreground) and Jack Piccalo at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Richard Seaman (foreground) and Jack Piccalo at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Fiddle tunes were not Seaman’s only contribution to the Florida Folk Festival. He also recited “tall tales” to eager audiences on the Story Telling Stage. What made Seaman’s stories engaging was his ability to weave reality and fantasy together, always framing the narrative with a plausible scenario, and resolving it with “a whopper.” As Hansen points out, there is truth in Seaman’s fictitious tales as he conveys, “the daily activities that form important components of his life experience,” and in a greater sense, shared his vision of folklife in Florida.

In 2001, Seaman was recognized for his longstanding contribution to the folk culture of Florida when he received the Florida Folk Heritage Award at 96 years old.

This podcast highlights two performances by Seaman from the Florida Folk Festival. The first features Seaman’s fiddle playing, partnered with Jack Piccalo’s guitar, from the 1993 festival. In the second performance, we will hear an excerpt from Seaman’s “tall tales” told from the Story Telling Stage at the 1992 festival.

Enjoy!

Richard Seaman Podcast
[audio:http://floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/folklife/mp3/podcasts/richard_seaman.mp3|titles= Richard Seaman: An Old Time Florida Fiddler, podcast by Derek Long |artists=State Archives of Florida] Download: MP3

For more information, see: Catalog Record for Fiddle Performance; Catalog Record for Story Telling Performance; Gregory Hansen, A Florida Fiddler: The Life and Times of Richard Seaman (University of Alabama Press, 2007); Gregory Hansen, “Richard Seaman’s Presence within Florida’s Soundscape,” in The Florida Folklife Reader, edited by Tina Bucuvalas (University Press of Mississippi, 2012).

Peruvian Waltz

Florida is home to immigrants from across Latin America and the Caribbean. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), this series of blog posts features music brought to Florida from throughout the Hispanic world.

We are highlighting the Peruvian waltz for our final blog post in the series celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. The waltz is a style of musica criolla, which originated in coastal Peru. Its roots come from a combination of traditional Spanish, Romani, and African music.

Hilda Gonzalez, Miami, 1985

Hilda Gonzalez, Miami, 1985

In 1986, Florida folklorists conducted the Dade Folk Arts Survey in order to identify folk artists for the 34th Annual Florida Folk Festival. During the course of the survey, a Latin American trio of musicians (Nelson Zuleto, Hilda Gonzalez, and Manolo Franco) performed the Peruvian waltz Alma, Corazon, y Vida (Soul, Heart, and Life).

Nelson Zuleto, Miami, 1985

Nelson Zuleto, Miami, 1985

Enjoy!

Peruvian Waltz, by Nelson Zuleto, Hilda Gonzalez, and Manolo Franco
[audio:http://floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/folklife/blog/Latin_American_folk_trio.mp3|titles= Peruvian Waltz, by Nelson Zuleto, Hilda Gonzalez, and Manolo Franco |artists=State Archives of Florida] Download: MP3

More Information: Catalog Record

Salsa Express

Florida is home to immigrants from across Latin America and the Caribbean. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), this series of blog posts features music brought to Florida from throughout the Hispanic world.

Cubans made their mark on Florida long before it became part of the United States. In recent years, Cuban immigrants have played a major role in shaping Florida’s politics, economy, and cultural landscape. Cuban musical traditions are some of the most vivid and recognizable expressions of Cubanidad imported from the island to the mainland.

Salsa music, which originated in Cuba, became internationally popular in the 1970s with its ability to pack the dance floor. Salsa was influenced by many different styles of music but its core structure comes from Son Cubano, which features a mixture of Spanish and African elements.

Salsa Express, Miami, ca. 1980

Salsa Express, Miami, ca. 1980

In October 1981, as part of the Cuban American Slide and Tape Project, Florida folklorists recorded a performance by Salsa Express at the Latin Fiesta Club in Miami (pictured below).

Latin Fiesta Club, Miami, 1981

Latin Fiesta Club, Miami, 1981

Enjoy!

Salsa Express performing at the Latin Fiesta Club
[audio:http://floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/folklife/blog/Salsa_Express.mp3|titles= Salsa Express performing at the Latin Fiesta Club |artists=State Archives of Florida] Download: MP3

More Information: Catalog Record

Learn more about the Cuban Experience in Florida

Jibaro Puertorriqueño

Florida is home to immigrants from across Latin America and the Caribbean. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), this series of blog posts features music brought to Florida from throughout the Hispanic world.

Today we’re highlighting Puerto Rican jibaro music. The term jibaro originally referred to Puerto Ricans from the interior mountainous regions of the country. Overtime jibaro became more of a general term for the rural population of Puerto Rico.

Jorge Lopez and Lena Verde performing at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida during the Traditions Festival, Miami, 1986

Jorge Lopez and Lena Verde performing at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida during the Traditions Festival, Miami, 1986

In 1986, Jorge Lopez and the band Lena Verde (Angelo Hernandez, Alejandro Santiago, and Angelo Rosario) performed this traditional style of Puerto Rican music at the first annual South Florida Folk Festival.

La Plena
[audio:http://floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/folklife/blog/Puerto_Rico.mp3|titles= La Plena, by Jorge Lopez and Lena Verde |artists=State Archives of Florida]
Download: MP3

More Information: Catalog Record

Mariachi Jalisco

Florida is home to immigrants from across Latin America and the Caribbean. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), this series of blog posts features music brought to Florida from throughout the Hispanic world.

Mariachi Jalisco is an aptly named band, as Mariachi music originated in the Mexican state of Jalisco. This recording of the band comes from the Metro-Dade Folk Arts Survey conducted in 1986 by folklorists Tina Bucuvalas, Nancy Nusz, and Laurie Sommers in order to identify folk arts and folk artists for the 34th Annual Florida Folk Festival.

Members of Mariachi Jalisco performing at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida during the Traditions Festival, Miami, 1986

Members of Mariachi Jalisco performing at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida during the Traditions Festival, Miami, 1986

Here, Mariachi Jalisco perform the song “La Llorona (The Weeping Woman),” a tune based on the legendary tale of a mother condemned to roam the earth for eternity looking in vain for her children that she drowned in life.

La Llorona
[audio:http://floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/folklife/blog/Mexico.mp3|titles= La Llorona, by Mariachi Jalisco |artists=State Archives of Florida]
Download: MP3

Survivalist Librarian

Listen to Boomslang Swampsinger perform “Survivalist Librarian,” a song from his Swamp Opera, at the 2006 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

Lithograph of a Florida Swamp, by Harry Feen, ca. 1890

When I was scanning through catalog records in the Folklife Collection, a song called “Survivalist Librarian” caught my eye. After the song circulated the office it was an obvious hit… to us anyway.

Survivalist Librarian
[audio:http://floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/folklife/blog/Survivalist_Librarian.mp3|titles= Survivalist Librarian, by Boomslang Swampsinger |artists=State Archives of Florida]Download: MP3
More Information: Catalog Record

As with any curious archivist or librarian, I wanted to add context. We knew the song was recorded on the Main Stage at the Florida Folk Festival on May 26, 2006, and that it was attributed to Murray Palmetto’s South Florida Swamp Show. But whose imagination came up with such a song? Thanks to Stan Geberer, a great patron of the Archives, who happened to be on stage that night playing harmonica for this very song, I was able to track down the composer: Boomslang Swampsinger.

Boomslang Swampsinger cordially agreed to an interview and was happy to provide some background on the song and the musicians involved. Beware, there is a fully developed mythology here, as difficult to keep straight as the Greek gods, but I will attempt to keep it as brief and coherent as possible.

Murray Palmetto’s South Florida Swamp Show is a one man show featuring Boomslang Swampsinger, star and producer of what he describes as his “Swamp Opera,” which consists of a mixture of swamp music and stories. Whenever Murray Palmetto (Boomslang Swampsinger) appears he plays with The Peters Road Swamp-Blues Band that specializes in “acoustic roadhouse country music about bars in the Everglades.”

The band for this particular performance consisted of Jake Vanderplate (mandolin), Bret Hartcrane (banjo, vocals), Mark Harris (bass, flute, vocals), Dawn DeWitt (bass, guitar, vocals), Ron Litschauer (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Stan Geberer (harmonica), Bari Litschauer (banjo, mandolin), and Barbara Meade. You’ll notice no mention of Boomslang Swampsinger above because he is also known as Bret Hartcrane (free CDs if you can guess the origins of this name) when playing with this band.

Yes, Boomslang has a number of aliases, adding to the pantheon of characters in this tangled Florida yarn, not to mention every band member has also been assigned an animal inspired name in addition to other colorful monikers.

In 2006, Murray Palmetto’s South Florida Swamp Show presented one of their “Swamp Operas” on opening night of the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs. It was called the Everglades Campfire Radio Show. “Survivalist Librarian” was one of the songs performed during the show.

The seed for this song was planted back in the early 1990s, according to Boomslang, when he and his wife were having a late lunch in western Broward County and “more than three or four dozen” well behaved and well armed camouflaged militia men came out of the swamp, leaned their rifles against the picnic tables and ordered lunch. Upon witnessing this scene Boomslang mused what if “they had [with them] an official librarian to serve them books to read, while waiting for the lone waitress to feed all 48 of them.” The result of this thought… well, we’ll let Boomslang explain the rest.

“Don’t be misled; we play Southern, but it’s Arab style”

The latest podcast features traditional Arab music performed by Rick and Mark Bateh from Jacksonville. Listen to the Bateh’s explain styles, techniques, and rhythms used in Arab music and demonstrate their skills to the crowd at the 1982 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

“Don’t be misled; we play Southern, but it’s Arab style”
[audio:http://floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/folklife/mp3/podcasts/arab.mp3|titles= "Don't be misled; we play Southern, but it's Arab style" |artists=State Archives of Florida]
Download: MP3

More Info: Podcasts Page

For more information about Arab music, see Habib Touma, The Music of the Arabs (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1996).

Hard Time Killing Floor Blues

“Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” by John Cephas and Phil Wiggins
[audio:http://floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/folklife/blog/Hard_Time_Killing_Floor_Blues.mp3|titles=Hard Time Killing Floor Blues, by John Cephas and Phil Wiggins|artists=State Archives of Florida]
Download: MP3
More Information: Catalog Record

This soulful blues tune is performed here with foreboding intensity by John Cephas and Phil Wiggins at the 1991 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs. “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” was originally penned and recorded in 1931 by delta blues legend Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James.

John Cephas and Phil Wiggins performing at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1991

John Cephas and Phil Wiggins performing at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1991

Guitarist John Cephas (1930-2009) and harmonica player Phil Wiggins (1954- ), legends in their own right, were an acoustic blues duo hailing from Washington D.C. The pair were known for their Piedmont blues style, but as you can hear in the audio clip above, they perfectly capture the essence of “Skip” James’ delta blues. If this song sounds familiar to you, it was also performed in the Coen Brother’s film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” by musician and actor Chris Thomas King.