Eartha M. M. White was a humanitarian, businesswoman and philanthropist from Jacksonville. She created educational opportunities and provided relief to African-Americans in northeastern Florida. White helped found several organizations and institutions, including the Clara White Mission, Mercy Hospital and the Boy’s Improvement Club. She was designated as a Great Floridian by the Florida Department of State in the year 2000.
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”
For more information about his life, upcoming performances and discography, visit the Charles Atkins homepage at http://www.downhomebluesband.com
Saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley was born September 15, 1928, in Tampa, Florida. He attended college at Florida A&M University, and taught music at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale.
In 1955, Adderley moved to New York, and began a successful career as a performer. He led groups that included his brother, cornetist Nat Adderley, as well as many other notable musicians such as Bill Evans, Milt Jackson, Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones. As a sideman, he appeared on classic recordings such as Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.
Cannonball Adderley died from a stroke in 1975, and was buried at the Southside Cemetery in Tallahassee, Florida.
Thelma Ann Boltin, affectionately known as “Cousin” Thelma, was a storyteller, emcee, teacher and long-time director of the Florida Folk Festival. Her dedication to sharing Florida’s folk traditions brought diverse groups of artists to the festival each year, and established the festival’s reputation for celebrating unique and varied cultures.
Born in South Carolina, she was raised in Gainesville and taught theater in schools and community centers. Here’s a clip of Cousin Thelma discussing the history of the Florida Folk Festival and various folk tales.
“St. Louis Blues”
“Give A Poor Dog A Bone”
Mary Smith McClain, also known as “Diamond Teeth” Mary for the jewels she once had embedded in her teeth, or “Walking Mary” for her notorious renditions of the “Walking Blues,” was a blues and gospel singer. Born in West Virginia, she began her singing career at the age of 13 performing in medicine shows as well as alongside the likes of her half-sister Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. In 1960, she settled in Manatee County, Florida, married her husband Clifford, and became a devoted gospel singer.
Diamond Teeth Mary was rediscovered by folklorist Steven Zeitlin in the 1980s, and performed regularly at the Florida Folk Festival from 1981 until her death in 2000. Her renewed fame brought additional performances across the United States and Europe, including the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. She received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1986.
Today is the birthday of educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune.
Check out the resources on Florida Memory to learn more about the impact of Mary McLeod Bethune on education and civil rights in Florida.
Iconic folk singer, teacher and activist Pete Seeger turns 93 this year. Although he resides in New York, his work collecting and promoting folk music inevitably brought him to the state of Florida. In 1956, he recorded an album with Florida Folk Heritage Award winner William “Washboard Bill” Cooke. Later, he befriended the Father of Florida Folk himself, Will McLean.
This rendition of the McLean-penned “Osceola’s Last Words” was recorded May 21, 1977, at the Stephen Foster Memorial Center in White Springs, Florida. Stay tuned for a podcast of the complete performance later this month.
“Osceola’s Last Words”
Vassar Clements was born April 25, 1928, in Kinard, Florida, but growing up in Kissimmee, where he first picked up the fiddle, earned him the nickname “Kissimmee Kid.” By the age of 21 he replaced Chubby Wise in Bill Monroe’s legendary Blue Grass Boys, and went on to work with artists as diverse as Jim and Jesse McReynolds, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Grateful Dead, and Dave Holland, to name a few. Although he got his start playing in string bands, Clements performed masterfully in any setting, and developed his own distinct style which he referred to as “Hillbilly Jazz.”
Despite a demanding performance schedule, the Kissimmee Kid still returned to his home state, appearing at the Florida Folk Festival between 1997 and 2004. He often sat in with other Festival musicians, appearing alongside the likes of the Rice Brothers, John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson, and Billy Dean.
You can listen to a podcast featuring Clements’ final performance at the 2004 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.
Vassar Clements died of lung cancer on August 16, 2005, at the age of 77. In his 70 years of fiddle playing, he left behind a large body of classic recordings, unique compositions and undeniable influence. Let’s enjoy some of Vassar’s legacy with his rendition of the Chubby Wise tune “ Florida Blues,” recorded at the 1997 Florida Folk Festival, and “ Salt Creek,” from a 2001 performance with the Rice Brothers.
LeRoy Collins was born March 10, 1909, in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1934, Leon County elected Collins to the Florida House of Representatives. Collins later served in the Florida Senate, until successfully running for Governor in a special election in 1955. He won the gubernatorial election again in 1956, becoming the first Florida Governor to serve two consecutive terms in office.
As governor of Florida, Collins clashed with members of the Florida legislature who wanted to halt integration following the historic Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education ruling in 1954. Governor Collins wrote that efforts by the legislature to uphold segregation constituted an “evil thing, whipped up by the demagogues and carried on the hot and erratic winds of passion, prejudice, and hysteria.” (See the document below for more information.)
Collins remained in public service after his second term as governor ended, until losing a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1968. When his career in politics ended, Collins and his wife Mary Call Darby Collins retired to their family home, known as The Grove, located in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1981, Secretary of State George Firestone designated LeRoy Collins as the first “Great Floridian,” in recognition of his achievements and significant contributions to the progress and welfare of the state.
LeRoy Collins died in 1991, followed by his wife Mary in 2009. Before LeRoy’s death, the Collins family sold The Grove to the State of Florida. The agreement allowed the couple to remain in the home until both passed away. In 2009, the State of Florida began efforts to restore The Grove for use as a multipurpose historic house museum.
Governor LeRoy Collins and Mary Call Darby Collins are remembered for their legacy of public service and for promoting equality for all Floridians.
Actor Jackie Gleason brought his variety show from its original home in New York City to Miami in 1964.