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Drop on Down in Florida

Drop on Down in Florida

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(35:59, 32.9MB; S1576 C77-7, T77-300, T78-320, T78-328, T80-91, T81-24 T83-62, T83-67, T83-69)

In 2012, the Florida Folklife Program, the State Archives of Florida and Dust-to-Digital, a Grammy award-winning record label, collaborated to release Drop on Down in Florida: Field Recordings of African American Traditional Music 1977 – 1980. The original audio recordings and many of the photographs from the fieldwork conducted for Drop on Down in Florida are now part of the Florida Folklife Collection housed at the State Archives of Florida.

Transcript of the Introduction

Welcome back to the Florida Folklife Collection Podcast series from the Florida Department of State’s Division of Library and Information Services. In 2012, the Florida Folklife Program, State Archives of Florida and Dust-to-Digital, an award-winning record label, collaborated to release Drop on Down in Florida: Field Recordings of African American Traditional Music 1977 – 1980. This is an expanded book and two-CD reissue of a double LP the Folklife Program released in 1981. The original audio recordings and many of the photographs from fieldwork conducted for Drop on Down in Florida are now part of the Florida Folklife Collection housed at the State Library and Archives of Florida. This month we will listen to some of the original field recordings, and State Folklorist Blaine Waide will discuss the reissue project as well as the fieldwork conducted by the Florida Folklife Program that resulted in Drop on Down in Florida.

Florida Memory: Blaine, tell us a little bit about the Florida Folklife Program at the time Drop on Down in Florida was originally conceived.

Blaine Waide: The Florida Folklife Program was established in the mid-1970s, at a time when public folklife programs began to proliferate across the country. The staff retraced the groundbreaking fieldwork conducted in the 1930s by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration in Florida. This project involved identifying and recording folk artists maintaining African-American sacred and secular music traditions in the same communities documented approximately 50 years earlier.

FM: What prompted a reissue of the material after it had been unavailable for more than 20 years? 

BW: An expanded reissue of Drop on Down in Florida was produced for several reasons. The original album was only available on LP, and had limited impact as an educational tool. Because these were some of the first field recordings of traditional African-American music in Florida since the WPA era, it has become clear that the album has significant value to both scholars and collectors of such recordings alike. Presenting them in a digital format on a label with Dust-to-Digital’s reputation would make the music available to a larger audience. 

FM: How was material selected for the reissue?

BW: The 1981 LP only scratched the surface of the rich material from the field recordings. Dwight DeVane, one of the folklorists involved with the original project, reviewed the recordings alongside Lance Ledbetter at Dust-to-Digital and myself. New selections were made based on research value and artistic excellence.

FM: For this podcast, we have a sampling of both sacred and secular selections.  Some of these have not been included on the reissue.  We’ll start with Emmett Murray’s “Mobile Blues,” which Drop on Down in Florida derived its title from.

[T83-62 Emmett Murray - “Mobile Blues”]
[T83-69 Robert Dennis - “Sweet Black Angel”]
[T78-328 Richard Williams - “Old Forty”]

BW: We just heard “Sweet Black Angel” from Robert Dennis followed by “Old Forty” performed by his cousin, Richard Williams.  Williams and Dennis exemplify music traditions performed in family gatherings. We’ll hear some sacred music performed by the Williams family later in the podcast.

Moses Williams, of no relation to the aforementioned Williams family, played the blues on a one-string instrument comprised of a broom wire nailed to a door and stretched over a bottle or can at each end.  Originally from Itta Bena, Mississippi, Williams had a hardscrabble but eventful life as an itinerant performer and migrant worker. He worked in the citrus groves of Waverly, Florida at the time of these recordings.  Up next, we’ll hear three selections from Moses Williams: “Catfish Blues,” “Big Road Blues” and “Baby Please Don’t Go.”  

[T78-320 Moses Williams - “Catfish Blues”]
[T77-300 Moses Williams - “Big Road Blues”]
[T78-320 Moses Williams - “Baby Please Don’t Go”]

FM: In addition to secular music traditions, the fieldwork conducted for Drop on Down in Florida documented diverse sacred music performed in Florida’s African-American communities.  These recordings include church services, family sings, individual performances, and shape-note singing conventions. 

BW: First we’ll hear “So Many Falling By the Wayside” from Johnny Brown, a blind street musician and slide guitarist.  We’ll also hear two selections from the Williams family, further illustrating the family performance setting.

[C77-7 Johnny Brown - “So Many Falling By the Wayside”]
[T83-67 Williams Family - “I Will Rise to Tell You What the Lord Done for Me/I Will Fly Away”]

BW: African-American shape-note singing was fieldworker Doris Dyen’s area of expertise, and the fieldwork conducted for Drop on Down in Florida documented the importance of this  tradition in the Southeastern United States.  Included are examples of both four-shape and seven-shape note singing styles recorded at annual sings in the Panhandle and south Georgia.

[T80-91 Southeast Alabama and Florida Union Sacred Harp Singing Convention - “Cuba”]
[T83-87 Pleasant Grove Mid-Union Seven Shape Note Singing Convention - “Inside the Pearly Gates”]

FM: We conclude with a congregation recorded at the Miccosukee Church of God of Prophecy in Leon County. We hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast, and you can learn more in Dust-to-Digital’s book and two-CD set Drop on Down in Florida: Field Recordings of African American Traditional Music 1977-1980.  Thanks for listening.

[T81-24 Miccosukee Church of God of Prophecy – “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand”]