Jean Ritchie, Appalachian balladeer and folklorist, sang with a high lonesome sound that ranged from dulcet to doleful—a sound ornamented with trills and quivers in the “good old way” of her Kentucky forebears. Ms. Ritchie died Monday at the age of 92. Read more
Once Florida’s largest industry, and one of the oldest industries in the United States, turpentine was a ubiquitous ingredient in American household products including paints, medicines, hair spray, and cosmetics, just to name a few. The industry was a driving force behind the development of port cities Jacksonville and Pensacola.
Oleoresin, better known to turpentiners as pine resin, is a natural byproduct of certain types of pine trees that at one time proliferated in North Florida. This pine resin was extracted from the trees by laborers (mostly African-American males) and then distilled to give us turpentine or “spirit of turpentine.”
Yet, before these modern uses of distilled pine resin, it was originally used for sealing wooden ships to protect against leaks, earning the name “naval stores.” The first known European use of naval stores in Florida was in the sixteenth century by Spanish explorers, but production of the resin did not become a fruitful trade in Florida until the early 1800s.
Temari is the traditional Japanese art of decorating spheres by winding and lacing colored threads in intricate patterns around a core ball. These Temari were made by master folk artist Kazuko Law and her daughter Chieri Esposito. They were photographed in 1985 in Gulf Breeze, 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.
“Wakulla Springs Boat Tours Podcast”
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.
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.
Now keep your hands and arms inside the boat, and enjoy the mysterious waters of Wakulla Springs!
“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.
The Memphis-born bluesman Keith Brown lays down an excellent rendition of Furry Lewis’s “Judge Harsh Blues” at the 2000 Florida Folk Festival.
Earlier that year, Brown held residency at the Bamboo House in Lake Worth, and recorded his debut album Got to Keep Movin’. In addition to his music career, Keith Brown has portrayed blues legends on film, including Son House in Stop Breakin’ Down and Skip James in The Soul of a Man.
“Judge Harsh Blues”
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.
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.
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.
More Info: Podcast with Transcript
Having worked in traveling medicine shows and vaudeville revues since the age of five, Abner Jay (1921-1993) rightly described himself as the “last working Southern black minstrel.”
As a solo performer, this one-man-band played banjo, bones (which he describes during the introduction to “Rattle These Bones”), harmonica, and percussion while singing traditional field songs, Pentecostal hymns, and minstrel tunes alongside eccentric original material. Abner Jay traveled down the Suwannee to White Springs from his riverside home in Georgia for the 1977 Florida Folk Festival, and gave the audience a memorable history lesson on American music.
“Rattle These Bones”
More Info: Catalog Record
The 60th annual Florida Folk Festival will be held Memorial Day Weekend at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs. The Festival began in 1953 under the direction of Sarah Gertrude Knott, and hasn’t skipped a year since, placing it among the longest continuously-running folk festivals in the country.
Florida Memory offers extensive resources relating to the Florida Folk Festival, including audio recordings dating back to 1954, thousands of photos, programs from 1953-2006, video footage, and an alphabetical list of Festival performers.
The Florida Folk Festival is a great way to interact with, and learn about music, art, traditional occupations, and foodways unique to the state of Florida. This year, festival goers can expect performances and workshops from Arlo Guthrie, John Anderson, Billy Dean, Frank Thomas, Doug Gauss, and Amy Carol Webb and a myriad of other musicians, storytellers, dancers and artisans.
For more information, please visit the Florida Folk Festival website.