William “Washboard Bill” Cooke

Washboard Bill was born in Dupont, Florida on July 4, 1905. He was known as a percussionist, rooted in the minstrel tradition, as well as a captivating storyteller. During much of Cooke’s childhood, his mother operated a juke joint in Dupont. The young Cooke would secretly stay up past his bedtime listening to the music emanating from his mother’s establishment. These experiences shaped Cooke’s interest in music, and greatly influenced his rhythmic style later on in life.

Close up of William

Close up of William “Washboard Bill” Cooke

At age six, Cooke began working for a local sawmill, making 25 cents per day, after his mother fell on hard financial times. In 1916, Mrs. Cooke closed her juke joint, and sent her children to live on their grandfather’s farm in Sanford, Florida. As times grew tougher and the Great Depression set in, Cooke grew weary of his life on the farm, and decided to leave home. For ten years, he led the life of a hobo, traveling by train all over the East Coast.

William

William “Washboard Bill” Cooke poses with his washboard and cymbals

Although Cooke spent the majority of his younger years traveling outside of Florida, he still maintained a connection with the state, generally spending his winters in West Palm Beach. Between 1947 and 1963, he performed with a group called the West Palm Beach Washboard Band. They played in venues everywhere from the streets to the estates of the Rockefellers and Kennedys. In 1956, he recorded Washboard Country Band with Sonny Terry and folk legend Pete Seeger. Cooke moved to West Palm Beach permanently in 1973. He performed in Florida and throughout the country until his death in 2003. For his musical and historical contributions, Cooke received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1992.

Portrait of street musician William

Portrait of street musician William “Washboard Bill” Cooke on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, Florida.

In 1988, Cooke recited a personal narrative, A Hobo’s Birthday, for the Palm Beach County Folk Arts in Education Project, conducted by the Florida Folklife Program. Cooke’s story offers a fascinating account of life as a hobo during the Great Depression. His travels and experiences give the listener a vivid portrayal of transient life on the railroad tracks, and of the character Washboard Bill.

Podcast: A Hobo’s Birthday by William “Washboard Bill” Cooke[audio:http://fpc.dos.state.fl.us/memory/collections/folklife/mp3/podcasts/washboard_bill.mp3|titles=A Hobo's Birthday|artists=State Archives of Florida]Download: MP3

For more information, please see:

Interview with Washboard Bill Cooke (and) Washboard Bill Cooke story: A Hobo’s Birthday

Seminole County’s 100th

2013 marks the 100 year anniversary of the founding of Seminole County. On April 25, 1913, Seminole County was carved out of Orange County. Enjoy a few of our favorite images of Seminole County’s people, places and events.

Drawing of Fort Mellon on Lake Monroe (ca. 1837)

Drawing of Fort Mellon on Lake Monroe (ca. 1837)

Altamonte Hotel, Altamonte Springs (1880s)

Altamonte Hotel, Altamonte Springs (1880s)

Sanford Waterfront (1882)

Sanford Waterfront (1882)

Waiting for the train, Altamonte Springs (ca. 1885)

Waiting for the train, Altamonte Springs (ca. 1885)

Hotel Sanford (1886)

Hotel Sanford (1886)

Steamboats on Lake Monroe (ca. 1886)

Steamboats on Lake Monroe (ca. 1886)

Cassava seedbeds, Lake Mary (early 1900s)

Cassava seedbeds, Lake Mary (early 1900s)

Main Street in Oviedo (ca. 1900)

Main Street in Oviedo (ca. 1900)

Sanford telephone exchange (1910s)

Sanford telephone exchange (1910s)

Automobile transported by ferry on Lake Monroe (February 14, 1912)

Automobile transported by ferry on Lake Monroe (February 14, 1912)

Sanford Machine and Garage Company (1917)

Sanford Machine and Garage Company (1917)

The Senator, near Longwood (1920s)

The Senator, near Longwood (1920s)

Jewish women’s club outside the Celery City Tea Room in Sanford (1933)

Jewish women’s club outside the Celery City Tea Room in Sanford (1933)

Dedication of Lake Monroe Bridge (April 6, 1934)

Dedication of Lake Monroe Bridge (April 6, 1934)

Celery harvest near Sanford (1937)

Seminole County Courthouse (1940s)

Seminole County Courthouse (1940s)

Sanlando Springs (1946)

Sanlando Springs (1946)

Band shell on Lake Monroe (1949)

Band shell on Lake Monroe (1949)

Members of the New York Giants and the Sanford girls team warming up (April 1950)

Members of the New York Giants and the Sanford girls team warming up (April 1950)

Beulah Conley operating a toroid coil winding machine in Casselberry (January 1958)

Beulah Conley operating a toroid coil winding machine in Casselberry (January 1958)

Larry Aubrey on the St. Johns River near Sanford (February 1960)

Larry Aubrey on the St. Johns River near Sanford (February 1960)

Barbara Muller of Lake Mary performing at the Florida Folk Festival (1976)

Barbara Muller of Lake Mary performing at the Florida Folk Festival (1976)