WPA field recordings in Riviera and Key West (January 1940 recording expedition)

Date: January 15, 1940

Source: S1576 , T86-246

Type: Sound

Download: MP3

Event Name

Collector or Fieldworker

Tradition Bearer

Genre or Occupation

Title of Work

  • Tobacco is a Noxious Weed (Roberts) (Riviera)
  • Jack and the Bean Stalk tale (Roberts) (Riviera)
  • L-O-N-D-O-N (Roberts) (Riviera)
  • Liverpool story (Roberts) (Riviera)
  • If Something Sees Something (Roberts) (Riviera)
  • Fox, The (Naomi Nelson) (Riviera)
  • Old Black Cat (Naomi Nelson) (Riviera)
  • Drive the Nail aright Boys (Sally Nelson) (Riviera)
  • I Belong to You the Union Band (Sally Nelson) (Riviera)
  • Bellamina (Rolle) (Key West)
  • More You Scratch (Rolle) (Key West)
  • Hoist Up the John B. Sail (Rolle) (Key West)
  • Bone fish (Key West)
  • Bella Mena (Key West)
  • Sponger Monkey (Key West)
  • Hoist Up John B. Sail (Rolle) (Key West)
  • Phyllis Stole the Ham (Rolle) (Key West)
  • Boil Them Cabbage Down (Rolle) (Key West)
  • Bingo Was His Name (Rolle) (Key West)
  • FLowers, Kind Flowers (Rolle) (Key West)

Ethnicity or Nationality

Place Name

Corporate or Conference Name


  • One reel to reel. These recordings were created by Florida folklorist Kennedy and photographer Cook in January 1940. They created a total of eighteen 12-inch acetate records that month. On this recording, Wilbur Roberts tells stories in Riviera; the Nelsons sing traditional Bahamian songs, and Rolle in Key West plays with his band on several songs. For more detailed information on the recordings, see S 1579, box 3, for copies of the original LOC indexes. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) – after 1939, the Works Projects Administration – was a work-relief program created in 1935 by the Roosevelt Administration that employed over 8.5 million people between 1935 and 1943. One of its programs was the Federal Writers Project (FWP), which included the Folklore Section. This section conducted fieldwork, recording songs, traditions, and stories across the nation. Originally created to gather material for the American Guide Series, but later emphasis was placed upon fieldwork for preservation of folk traditions for future use. In Florida, the FWP was based out of Jacksonville, and directed by historian Carita Doggett Corse. Folklorist Stetson Kennedy directed the Florida Folklife section. Seven recording expeditions were conducted in Florida. Two were conducted between 1935 and 1937, before the creation of the Florida Folklore Section: one by Alan Lomax and Zora Neale Hurston, and the other by John and Ruby Lomax. After 1939, five more were conducted by Florida’s FWP staff: Kennedy, Hurston, Robert Cook, Alton Morris, Corse, Robert Cornwell, John Filareton, and Herbert Halpert (of the Joint Committee on Folk Art’s Southern Recording Expedition.) Recording equipment was loaned to Florida’s WPA program by the Library of Congress’ Archive of the American Folk Song (later the American Folk Center). The field recordings were made on acetate disks, usually recorded at 78 rpm (although occasionally at 33 rpm). Because these disks were shipped from Washington DC to Florida, then to the recording site, and then back to Washington, these disks often were not of the highest sonic quality. Several had surface scratches and many had various recording speeds. In 1986, the FFP staff made copies of many of these recordings onto reel to reels for inclusion to the Florida Folklife Archive. The originals are still housed with the Library of Congress.

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