Washboard Bill

Washboard Bill, 1905-2003


William "Washboard Bill" Cooke was born in Dupont, Florida, on July 4, 1905. He was known as a percussionist, as well as a captivating storyteller rooted in the minstrel tradition. During 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. These experiences influenced his rhythmic style. In 1916, Mrs. Cooke closed her juke joint, and sent her children to live on their grandfather's farm in Sanford, Florida. During the Great Depression, Cooke grew weary of his life on the farm, and decided to leave home. For 10 years, he led the life of a hobo, traveling by train all over the East Coast and generally spending his winters in West Palm Beach. Between 1947 and 1963, he performed with 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.

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