Remembering Etta Baker

Etta Baker performs on the Old Marble Stage - White Springs, Florida (1994)

Etta Baker performs on the Old Marble Stage – White Springs, Florida (1994)

Although she hailed from Caldwell County, North Carolina, we’d like to remember Piedmont blues guitarist Etta Baker, born March 31, 1913. She was first recorded in 1956 by folk singer Paul Clayton. These recordings of her gently plucked finger style influenced many artists, including Bob Dylan and Taj Mahal, but Etta never released an album of her own until her 1991 One Dime Blues.

Upon retiring from the textile mill where she worked most of her life, Etta Baker began touring extensively, including a stop at the 1994 Florida Folk Festival. Please enjoy this recording of the first song Etta learned at the age of 3, “Railroad Bill,” captured at the Old Marble Stage.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

Catalog Record

Before her death at the age of 93, Etta Baker received prestigious recognitions for her talent, including the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, and recorded two more albums—one of which was a collaborative effort with Taj Mahal.

More recordings of Etta Baker can be found on the Florida Folklife Collection sampler CDs More Music From the Florida Folklife Collection and Where the Palm Trees Shake at Night.

Tom Gaskins: Ol’ Barefoot

Tom Gaskins (1909 – 1998) spent most of his life trudging through the swamps of Fisheating Creek near Palmdale, Florida. He was a man of ideas and regarded as a salt-of-the-earth character. Gaskins owned the Cypress Knee Museum in Palmdale where he collected and sold cypress knees as decorations, furniture, and other useful items. His knowledge of cypress knees and swamp life was legendary. His friends referred to him as “Ol’ Barefoot,” as he never wore shoes except when paying his respects at a funeral.

Tom Gaskins at his Cypress Knee Museum, Palmdale, 1987

Tom Gaskins at his Cypress Knee Museum, Palmdale, 1987

The Cypress Knee Museum opened in the 1930s when Gaskins fashioned an extra-large cypress knee into a roadside sign to lure tourists to his collection. The museum remained open until 2000 (2 years after Gaskins’ death) when the property was burglarized and most of the collection stolen.

Cypress knee decorated by Tom Gaskins, Palmdale, 1987

Cypress knee decorated by Tom Gaskins, Palmdale, 1987

Gaskins was also an inventor. He held over a dozen patents, including the Tom Gaskin’s Turkey Call that is still manufactured and sold today.

Turkey call invented by Tom Gaskins, Palmdale, 1987

Turkey call invented by Tom Gaskins, Palmdale, 1987

The State Archives of Florida is not the only organization that has taken an interest in Mr. Gaskins. Over the years he was featured in stories by the LA Times, Sun Sentinel, Mechanix Illustrated, Popular Science, Chicago Tribune, and was even a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Gaskins received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1988. His fascinating work and personality piqued the interest of those lucky enough to cross his path; just like travelers going down US 27 in South Florida who stopped by to see “Ol’ Barefoot.”

In 1987, Tom Gaskins was interviewed by the Florida Folklife Program. Below are two excerpts:

Excerpt 1: Tom Gaskins explains the origins of hollow cypress knees

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

Excerpt 2: Tom Gaskins talks about the turkey call he invented

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

More Information: Catalog Record

Pete Seeger (1919-2014)

Pete Seeger, folk music legend and activist, died January 27, 2014, at the age of 94.

Born in New York City, Seeger learned the banjo in 1938, and worked with Alan Lomax at the Archive of American Folk Song in the Library of Congress. As a songwriter, his original repertoire included “Turn Turn Turn” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” He also formed two influential groups, the Almanac Singers and the Weavers, who sang labor anthems like “Which Side are You On?” as well as traditional numbers such as “Goodnight, Irene.”

During his extensive career, Seeger inevitably crossed paths with Florida folk artists. In 1956, he recorded for Folkways Records with the Washboard Band, which featured Florida Folk Heritage Award Winner William “Washboard Bill” Cooke. Not surprisingly, he also struck up a friendship with the Father of Florida Folk himself, Will McLean. The two performed together in 1963 at Carnegie Hall, and Will McLean was notably present for Seeger’s 1977 White Springs appearance.

Part 1

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Download: MP3
More Info: Catalog Record

Intermission

Part 2

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Download: MP3
More Info: Catalog Record

What Rhymes With Gigantic?

At the State Archives, one of our favorite genres of music can be best described as Florida Cheese, the sometimes catchy, sometimes grating, always brain infesting jingles used to promote the state over the years.

This song, titled “Florida Belongs to You,” was created by the Florida Development Commission during the Askew administration (1971-1979) and captures the essence of Florida Cheese.

Florida Belongs to You

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

Lyrics:

“Florida…

Take a ride, see the sights
Have your fun, in the sun
See the old, see the new
For Florida belongs to you

Plan a trip and do it soon
Here today, tomorrow the moon
Take the kids, have a ball
For Florida’s the greatest of them all

From the Gulf, to the Atlantic, and the Keys just beyond
It’s beautiful and so gigantic and you can dream you’re Ponce de Leon

Tell the world, sing it loud
It’s your state, say you’re proud
More to see, lots to do
For Florida belongs to you”

Stephen Foster Memorial Day

Stephen C. Foster, “America’s Troubadour,” was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1826. He died on January 13, 1864.

Stephen C. Foster, 1859

Stephen C. Foster, 1859

President Harry S. Truman established Stephen Foster Memorial Day by proclamation in October, 1951. The first official observance of the day occurred on January 13, 1952. Today, 150 years after his death, we continue to recognize the life and works of “America’s Troubadour.”

Foster is remembered for composing songs that captured the spirit of the United States in the 19th century. He wrote over 200 songs in his career. Some of his most popular include: “Oh! Susanna,” “Laura Lee,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Old Folks at Home (aka “Swanee River”),” “Camptown Races,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” and “Old Black Joe.”

Carillon tower at the Stephen Foster State Memorial Center State Park, White Springs, 1957

Carillon tower at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, White Springs, 1957

White Springs, Florida, is home to the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. The park, on the banks of the Suwanee River, opened in 1950 to honor Foster and his song, “Old Folks at Home.” Every year since 1954 the park has hosted the annual Florida Folk Festival.

Tenor James Melton singing during the first National Stephen Foster Memorial Day, White Springs, 1952

Tenor James Melvin performing during the inaugural Stephen Foster Memorial Day, White Springs, 1952

Florida Governor Fuller Warren hosted the inaugural Stephen Foster Memorial Day at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. Singer James Melvin performed songs from the Foster catalog, accompanied by Frank Black on the piano.

Listen to recordings from the 1952 event. Enjoy!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

More Information: Catalog Record

Happy Birthday Zora Neale Hurston!

Acclaimed author, folklorist, and path-breaking anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston was born yesterday in about 1891.

Zora Neale Hurston, ca. 1930

Zora Neale Hurston, ca. 1930

Although most associated with the Harlem Renaissance and her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida and worked for the Federal Writers Project (FWP) in Florida, alongside Stetson Kennedy, in the 1930s and 1940s.

Hurston was among the first trained anthropologists to study African American culture in the American South. She incorporated her fieldwork into fiction and non-fiction writings. Hurston died in Fort Pierce, Florida in 1960.

Zora Neale Hurston, with Rochelle French and Gabriel Brown, Eatonville, 1935

Zora Neale Hurston, with Rochelle French and Gabriel Brown, Eatonville, 1935

Some of Hurston’s most important yet underappreciated contributions to American anthropology consist of work songs she gathered in Florida while working for the FWP. Listen to one of our favorites, collected by Hurston at a railroad construction camp near Lakeland in 1933.

Shove It Over, as performed by Zora Neal Hurston

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

Learn more: Zora Neale Hurston, the WPA in Florida, and the Cross City Turpentine Camp (online learning unit)

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

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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.

Enjoy!

Richard Seaman Podcast

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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).

Peruvian Waltz

Florida is home to immigrants from across Latin America and the Caribbean. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), this series of blog posts features music brought to Florida from throughout the Hispanic world.

We are highlighting the Peruvian waltz for our final blog post in the series celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. The waltz is a style of musica criolla, which originated in coastal Peru. Its roots come from a combination of traditional Spanish, Romani, and African music.

Hilda Gonzalez, Miami, 1985

Hilda Gonzalez, Miami, 1985

In 1986, Florida folklorists conducted the Dade Folk Arts Survey in order to identify folk artists for the 34th Annual Florida Folk Festival. During the course of the survey, a Latin American trio of musicians (Nelson Zuleto, Hilda Gonzalez, and Manolo Franco) performed the Peruvian waltz Alma, Corazon, y Vida (Soul, Heart, and Life).

Nelson Zuleto, Miami, 1985

Nelson Zuleto, Miami, 1985

Enjoy!

Peruvian Waltz, by Nelson Zuleto, Hilda Gonzalez, and Manolo Franco

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

More Information: Catalog Record

Salsa Express

Florida is home to immigrants from across Latin America and the Caribbean. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), this series of blog posts features music brought to Florida from throughout the Hispanic world.

Cubans made their mark on Florida long before it became part of the United States. In recent years, Cuban immigrants have played a major role in shaping Florida’s politics, economy, and cultural landscape. Cuban musical traditions are some of the most vivid and recognizable expressions of Cubanidad imported from the island to the mainland.

Salsa music, which originated in Cuba, became internationally popular in the 1970s with its ability to pack the dance floor. Salsa was influenced by many different styles of music but its core structure comes from Son Cubano, which features a mixture of Spanish and African elements.

Salsa Express, Miami, ca. 1980

Salsa Express, Miami, ca. 1980

In October 1981, as part of the Cuban American Slide and Tape Project, Florida folklorists recorded a performance by Salsa Express at the Latin Fiesta Club in Miami (pictured below).

Latin Fiesta Club, Miami, 1981

Latin Fiesta Club, Miami, 1981

Enjoy!

Salsa Express performing at the Latin Fiesta Club

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download: MP3

More Information: Catalog Record

Learn more about the Cuban Experience in Florida