Blues Pianist Alexander McBride

The latest podcast from the State Archives of Florida highlights the life and music of blues pianist Alexander McBride.

Alex McBride performing at John E. Ford Elementary School, Jacksonville, 1991

Alex McBride performing at John E. Ford Elementary School, Jacksonville, 1991

Born in Jacksonville in 1913, McBride grew up in a household where gospel music was always in the air. His mother owned a piano, which she used strictly for spiritual music. Interestingly, McBride learned to play the piano from his mother, though she didn’t teach him herself. As a young boy, he recalled watching his mother practice. When she left, he would rush to the piano, replicating his mother’s technique. Once she heard her son’s talent, she began training and encouraging him to play at their local church.

Unbeknownst to his family, McBride became fond of blues music, which was banned in their home and church. That didn’t stop McBride. He would sneak out of the house and visit local juke joints to experience blues music, and before long, as a young teenager, he was playing local clubs and house parties. As an adult, he traveled around the Southeast, as well as to Chicago, playing primarily African American venues. In time, he earned the stage name “Piano Slim.”

Like fellow Florida native, and piano player, Ray Charles, McBride’s playing embodied both sacred and secular music. Both artists incorporated aspects of gospel into their blues, jazz, and R&B music to give their songs more profound emotional power. In the recordings selected for this podcast, McBride performs a moving rendition of Georgia on My Mind, made famous by Ray Charles. You will also hear McBride’s range of musical talent in Jazz Boogie, as he incorporates jazz and boogie-woogie into his repertoire.

McBride died in 1999, but he lived to see recognition for his contributions to Florida folk music. In 1997, he was presented the Florida Folk Heritage Award. McBride had a proactive desire to share his knowledge and talent by teaching and inspiring others. He participated in the Duval County Folklife in Education Program for 10 years by playing the piano for children in Duval County Public Schools.

Alexander McBride Podcast

Download: MP3

For More Information:

Catalog record: Sunday performances at the 1993 Florida Folk Festival (Main Stage) (Tape 5)

Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources: 1997 Florida Folk Heritage Award

An Old Time Florida Fiddler

Our latest podcast features music and tall tales from Florida fiddler and story teller Richard Seaman (1904-2002).

Richard Seaman at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Richard Seaman at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Seaman was born on an orange grove in Kissimmee, Florida. While attending community gatherings as a young boy, he listened to local fiddlers as people square danced into the night. These experiences motivated him to pick up the fiddle and learn the craft. This environment was also conducive to the telling of “tall tales,” which Seaman later recounted and delivered to captivated audiences with an intuitive flair.

Over the years, Seaman developed a repertoire of fiddle tunes that included waltzes and western swing, but the “old time” hoedown tunes he learned as a young man exemplify his contribution to the regional heritage of Florida fiddle playing. Folklorist Gregory Hansen notes that Seaman’s fiddle tunes have influenced fiddlers from Florida and beyond, and even the genre of bluegrass music that this “old time” style of playing precedes.

In his early years of fiddle playing, Seaman moved to Jacksonville, where he performed in several bands, including the Melody Makers and the string band South Land Trail Riders. He and the Melody Makers also had a weekly radio program on WJAX. In 1955, Seaman put his fiddle down and didn’t pick it up again for more than 30 years until he met banjoist/guitarist Jack Piccalo. The two began to play together at the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs, and continued to do so regularly until Seaman’s death in 2002.

Richard Seaman (foreground) and Jack Piccalo at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Richard Seaman (foreground) and Jack Piccalo at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Fiddle tunes were not Seaman’s only contribution to the Florida Folk Festival. He also recited “tall tales” to eager audiences on the Story Telling Stage. What made Seaman’s stories engaging was his ability to weave reality and fantasy together, always framing the narrative with a plausible scenario, and resolving it with “a whopper.” As Hansen points out, there is truth in Seaman’s fictitious tales as he conveys, “the daily activities that form important components of his life experience,” and in a greater sense, shared his vision of folklife in Florida.

In 2001, Seaman was recognized for his longstanding contribution to the folk culture of Florida when he received the Florida Folk Heritage Award at 96 years old.

This podcast highlights two performances by Seaman from the Florida Folk Festival. The first features Seaman’s fiddle playing, partnered with Jack Piccalo’s guitar, from the 1993 festival. In the second performance, we will hear an excerpt from Seaman’s “tall tales” told from the Story Telling Stage at the 1992 festival.


Richard Seaman Podcast

Download: MP3

For more information, see: Catalog Record for Fiddle Performance; Catalog Record for Story Telling Performance; Gregory Hansen, A Florida Fiddler: The Life and Times of Richard Seaman (University of Alabama Press, 2007); Gregory Hansen, “Richard Seaman’s Presence within Florida’s Soundscape,” in The Florida Folklife Reader, edited by Tina Bucuvalas (University Press of Mississippi, 2012).

José Palmi and Jesús Rodríguez – Masters of Venezuelan Harp

Download: MP3
More Info: Podcast

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is September 15 through October 15, this month’s podcast spotlights two talented Venezuelan harp players: José Palmi and Jesús Rodríguez. Both musicians immigrated to Florida and have enriched American culture by sharing their unique tradition through performances and apprenticeships.

José Palmi playing harp

José Palmi playing harp

The harp was introduced to Latin America by Spanish missionaries primarily during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was adopted into the indigenous music of the continent as both a solo instrument and accompaniment for vocalists and instrumental ensembles. Many varieties of harp thrive throughout Venezuela, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico.

In Venezuela, the celebratory joropo, with its regional variations, is perhaps the most prominent type of traditional music from los llanos, or plains. Its rhythm is in triple meter like a waltz, but driven by syncopation and a fast-paced tempo—well suited for quick-footed couple dancing. The type of harp corresponding to this region is known as arpa llanera, on which Palmi and Rodríguez play many examples of Venezuela’s música llanera, or music of the plains.

Jesus Rodriguez playing the Venezuelan harp- Naples, Florida

Jesús Rodríguez playing the Venezuelan harp- Naples, Florida

The performances featured in this podcast were recorded on two separate occasions. José Palmi was recorded to digital audio tape at his home in Miami on June 27, 1993. Jesús Rodríguez, accompanied by his seven year-old-son Henry on maracas, was recorded to open reel tape at the 1986 Florida Folk Festival.