On this date in 1912 the first passenger train arrived in Key West, marking the completion of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad from Jacksonville to the Southernmost City.
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.
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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.
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.
On April 18, 1982, the United States Border Patrol set up a roadblock just south of Florida City, on U.S. Highway 1, to catch illegal immigrants traveling to and from the Florida Keys. In response, after five days of ensuing traffic congestion and intrusive behavior by the Border Patrol, the people of Key West staged a mock secession from the United States and established the Conch Republic on April 23.
These images of Key West are from the Dale McDonald collection. Firefighter and photographer Dale McDonald was born in Key West, Florida, on October 2, 1949. McDonald began taking photographs while a student at Key West High School. After graduation in 1968, McDonald enlisted in the United States Air Force.