Florida’s close proximity to the Caribbean islands has introduced a variety of rich cultural celebrations to the state. In this podcast we explore some of the music that grew out of the Bahamian Junkanoo parades as we listen to the Key West Junkanoos.
Employed by the City of Key West, the Junkanoos were led by bassist Bill Butler, pianist Lofton “Coffee” Butler, and featured percussionists Charles Allen, Kenny Rahming, Joe Whyms and Alvin Scott. They appeared often at the Florida Folk Festival from 1977-1991.
Key West Island Junkanoos peforming at the Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, 1983
The origin of the name Junkanoo is a matter of debate. Some say it is derived from the name of 18th century African Gold Coast leader John Connu. Others have looked to similar sounding phrases such as the French for “masked people,” gens inconnu. Bahamian Junkanoo parades can be traced back to the 1800s when African slaves would gather, don masks, and celebrate with music and dance on Christmas Day. The parades have evolved to become huge tourist attractions and occur in two stages or rushes: the first on Boxing Day (December 26) and the second on New Year’s Day. This tradition was carried to Key West and Miami by Bahamian immigrants of African descent.
The Key West Junkanoos have distilled the sounds of the parades’ marching bands into their own repertoire of original material, as well as performing classic Calypso tunes such as “The John B. Sails,” “Island in the Sun” and “Yellow Bird.” The recordings in this podcast are from the Junkanoos’performance at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival’s Main Stage.
Tour boat guide Wilbert Gavin: Wakulla Springs, Florida
Alligators, snakes, rare birds and Native exoticism are all pinnacles of Florida’s tourism industry. Wakulla Springs State Park offers visitors the chance to experience all of these things and more under the guidance of clever and knowledgeable guides. In this month’s podcast we’ll examine the oral traditions of the Wakulla Springs boat drivers.
Sandgren family enjoys a glass bottom boats: Wakulla Springs, Florida (1946)
Glass-bottom boat tours are certainly not exclusive to Wakulla Springs. They have been a long-standing attraction in Silver Springs, Homosassa Springs and Rainbow Springs, among others. Boat tours in Wakulla Springs date back to the late 1800s. Right up through recent history, descendents of the first boatmen of the Springs have followed in the footsteps of their forefathers, and their chants, jokes and stories have been passed down through the generations.
Henry the pole-vaulting fish at Wakulla Springs: Wakulla Springs, Florida
Now keep your hands and arms inside the boat, and enjoy the mysterious waters of Wakulla Springs!
Eddie Massena from Rasta Samba Gynin playing conga drum during Jamaican Independence Day festival: Miami, Florida (1985)
As part of their research, the Florida Folklife Program selects and surveys a particular region or tradition. The Dade Folk Arts Survey was conducted from 1985-1986 by folklorists Tina Bucuvalas, Nancy Nusz and Laurie Sommers with the goal of finding folk artists to bring to the 34th annual Florida Folk Festival. Many of the recordings found in the collection are the result of fieldwork conducted by folklorists. Their findings are extensively documented through field notes, sound recordings, photographs and video.
Manolo Franco playing Venezuelan harp during a rehearsal: Miami, Florida (1985)
This podcast contains a sampling of recordings from the Miami-Dade region as found in the Dade Folk Arts Survey. While Latin American, Haitian and Jewish cultures were most prominently represented, the survey also covered a wide range of traditions, including shoe rag popping, Middle Eastern music, Jamaican stories and dance, and Irish fiddling.
Klezmer musician Jaime Bronsztein performing at the Traditions Festival: Miami, Florida (1986)
We hope you enjoy the variety of traditions captured in the Dade Folk Arts Survey, and look forward to sharing more fieldwork from the Florida Folklife Collection in the future.
Guitarist Doc Watson died on Tuesday at the age of 89. Hailing from Deep Gap, NC, his impressive flat-picking, deep baritone voice and gift for storytelling captivated audiences around the world. Although he didn’t begin his professional musical career until the age of 40, Watson grew up playing a variety of styles and instruments. His willingness and ability to embrace and interweave a broad spectrum of genres earned him many prestigious accolades, as well as a long list of collaborators and fans.
We look back on Doc Watson’s legacy with a podcast featuring his performance with Jack Lawrence at the 1996 Florida Folk Festival’s Old Marble Stage.
In 1977, the Florida Folklife Program sponsored a series of free concerts by nationally renowned folk musicians at the Stephen Foster Center in White Springs. Included in the lineup were Jean Ritchie, the New Christy Minstrels, the Kingston Trio, Doc and Merle Watson, and Pete Seeger, who turned 93 on May 3. To celebrate Pete’s birthday, we’ll revisit his performance recorded 35 years ago in this month’s podcast.
Pete Seeger performing at the 1977 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.
Born in New York City, Pete Seeger learned the banjo in 1938, and worked with Alan Lomax at the Archive of American Folk Song in the Library of Congress. As a songwriter, his original repertoire included “Turn Turn Turn” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” He also formed two influential groups, the Almanac Singers and the Weavers, who sang labor anthems like “Which Side are You On?” as well as traditional numbers such as “Goodnight, Irene.”
During his extensive career, Seeger inevitably crossed paths with Florida folk artists. In 1956, he recorded for Folkways Records with the Washboard Band, which featured Florida Folk Heritage Award Winner William “Washboard Bill” Cooke. Not surprisingly, he also struck up a friendship with the Father of Florida Folk himself, Will McLean. The two performed together in 1963 at Carnegie Hall, and Will McLean was notably present for Seeger’s 1977 White Springs appearance.
Pete Seeger wrote about Florida in his music as well. “Delbert Tibbs” is an ode to the African-American poet who was wrongfully convicted of murder and rape in 1974 and sat on death row in Raiford State Penitentiary until January of 1977. The song helped procure justice for Tibbs, and in 1982, all charges against him were dismissed.
Today, at the age of 93, Pete Seeger is still performing, recording and promoting social justice. Let’s hand the microphone over to our mistress of ceremonies, Thelma Boltin, and sing along as Pete picks the banjo and strums his 12-string guitar.
Since the 1930s, women have had an important role in documenting, preserving and celebrating Florida’s diverse cultural heritage. March is Women’s History Month, and in this podcast we will recognize and give voice to some of these women.
We begin with Eatonville native Zora Neale Hurston, who documented turpentine workers in Cross City, Florida as part of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project. Through her essay “Turpentine,” and field recordings, Hurston captured unique, first-hand accounts of day-to-day life in the turpentine camps, and the traditions that were an integral part of the workers’ culture.
Gabriel Brown playing guitar as Rochelle French and Zora Neale Hurston listen: Eatonville, Florida
During the same time Zora Neale Hurston was conducting fieldwork in Florida, Sarah Gertrude Knott founded both the National Folk Festival and the National Folk Festival Association in 1934; among the earliest advisors for these endeavors was Ms. Hurston. In 1952, under contract from the Stephen Foster Memorial Commission, Knott organized the first Florida Folk Festival and formed the Florida Folk Festival Association. She also served as director of the first two Florida Folk Festivals in 1953 and 1954.
Succeeding Sarah Gertrude Knott as director of the Florida Folk Festival from 1954-1965 was “Cousin” Thelma Boltin from Gainesville. In addition to sharing her gifts as a storyteller, organizer and emcee, Cousin Thelma—a title earned from her familial rapport with festival participants—scouted the state for folk artists to recruit for the festival. With the help of Barbara Beauchamp, Boltin established the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs as a valuable institution for sharing and celebrating the state’s varied traditions.
The success of the Florida Folk Festival brought the Stephen Foster Memorial Center a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Florida Folklife Program was instituted in 1976. Dr. Peggy Bulger was Florida’s first State Folklorist, founding and administering the Florida Folklife Program from 1976-1989. She created a large body of fieldwork which laid the foundations for the Florida Folklife Collection, and instituted valuable outreach programs such as apprenticeships, educational videos and publications, workshops and exhibits. Dr. Bulger went on to serve as the Senior Program Officer for the Southern Arts Federation, and later as director of the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center.
Folklorist Peggy Bulger, right, conducting field work with quiltmaker Betsy (Mrs. Denard) Webb in White Springs, Florida.
With the establishment of the Florida Folklife Program came significant contributions from many other women. Working alongside Peggy Bulger was Brenda McCallum, who was instrumental in documenting and establishing contacts in Florida’s communities. She also played an important role in developing the Florida Folklife Program Archive, and today the American Folklore Society awards a prize in her honor to institutions and individuals working with folklife collections. Tina Bucuvalas served as the State Folklorist from 1996-2009, though her work in the Florida Folklife Program dates back to 1986 with the Miami-Dade Folklife Survey. She currently serves as Curator of Arts and Historical Resources for the City of Tarpon Springs, and recently edited The Florida Folklife Reader.
Folklorist Nancy Nusz interviewing Mr. Ramesch from the Mandeer Restaurant at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, Florida
The list of women who have been integral to the research, documentation and teaching of Florida’s folk traditions continues with Lillian Saunders, Merri Belland, Doris Dyen, Nancy Nusz, Riki Saltzman, Jan Rosenberg, Debbie Fant, Andrea Graham, Laurie Sommers, Mary Anne McDonald, Teresa Hollingsworth, and Betsy Peterson. As part of the Florida Folklife Collection, the recordings in this podcast provide a unique look into some of the methods, philosophies and motivations behind the work of folklorists.
This podcast features songs, stories, speeches and interviews from Zora Neale Hurston, Sarah Gertrude Knott, Thelma Boltin, Peggy Bulger, and Doris Dyen.
Hymn liner Troy Demps (left) and apprentice Brian Wright: Orlando (1995)
In recognition of Black History Month, we will highlight the uniquely African-American tradition of hymn lining.
The practice of lining hymns can be traced back to the 17th century when printed hymnals were scarce and many churchgoers—both slaves and whites—could not read.
A church elder or minister who could read would “line out,” or recite a hymn line by line, which in turn was repeated by the congregation. These hymns, such as “Amazing Grace” or “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” persisted and evolved in African-American churches after emancipation.
As Deacon at the Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, Troy Demps continues to practice hymn lining, and believes there is a more focused connection with the Holy Spirit among the congregation when the hymnal is set aside. Through the Florida Department of State’s Folklife Apprenticeship Program, he taught hymn lining in order to preserve the tradition and was awarded the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 2003.
Will McLean of Tallahassee at the Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, Florida
The music of Will McLean has been recorded and performed by dozens of artists, proving “The Father of Florida Folk” was not just a nickname for this prolific songwriter. His classic portrayals of Florida’s people and landscapes through songs such as “Seminole,” “Osceola’s Last Words,” and “Florida Sand” are still sung today, and every year, festival participants gather on the main stage for a grand finale of “Hold Back the Waters” to close out the Florida Folk Festival.
Born near Chipley, McLean spent his life traveling and writing songs inspired by his experiences in and love for the Sunshine State. He wrote his first song, “Away O’ee,” at the age of six, and went on to compose over 3,000 more songs and stories before his death in 1990. Will McLean received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1989, and in 1996 he was inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame. His legacy continues through the Will McLean Foundation as well as an annual folk festival bearing his name.
The Florida Folklife Collection contains thousands of audio recordings from the 1930s to the present. These recordings include festival performances, fieldwork and radio programming from across the state. Every month focuses on an artist, genre, tradition or event in our monthly podcast series.
Please enjoy this month’s podcast featuring highlights from Will McLean’s appearances at the 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.