Rebetiko Music from Tarpon Springs

Tarpon Springs, a small town in Southwest Florida with the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the U.S., was recently named Florida’s first Traditional Cultural Property as recognized by the National Park Service. Greek immigrants began arriving at Tarpon Springs in the 1880s. They worked in the booming sponge diving industry, bringing with them rich cultural traditions that shaped their community into one of the most unique cities in Florida.

Nick Mastras plays a laouto – Tarpon Springs, Florida

One thriving cultural tradition in Tarpon Springs is rebetiko music. Rebetiko (plural rebetika), a catch-all term for Greek folk music, became popular during the folk revival in the 1960s and 70s. Many Greek musicians living in Tarpon Springs playing a diverse range of instruments, including the tsabouna and bouzouki, went on to have illustrious careers playing rebetiko.

Nikitas Tsimouris, a notable Greek American tsabouna performer, came from a family of sponge divers and learned songs from around the world on his sailing expeditions. Tsimouris participated in the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program, passing down the tsabouna tradition to his grand-nephew, Nikitas Kavouklis. In 1991, Tsimouris received the National Heritage Fellowship in recognition of his ability to build and play the instrument.

Greek bagpipe player Nikitas Tsimouris, right, plays the practice chanter, accompanied by his apprentice and grand-nephew Nikitas Kavouklis on the tsabouna – Tarpon Springs, Florida

The tsabouna originates from the Dodecanese islands, and is a bagpipe-like instrument made out of goatskin. Some believe the instrument was created by herdsman as a way to pass the time. It has two chanters, pipes with finger holes in them, so two lines of melody can be played at the same time and harmonize with each other, creating an interesting accompaniment for a singer. Typically, a chanter is passed down from father to son, and Tsimouris’ chanter was made out of olive wood  and bamboo reeds by his father.

Greek bagpiper Nikitas Tsimouris of Tarpon Springs performing at the 1985 Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

Nikitas Tsimouris playing the tsabouna, a Greek Bagpipe

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Another popular instrument used in rebetiko is the bouzouki. The bouzouki is a 3 or 4-stringed instrument that originated in Asia Minor and was brought to Greece in the early 1900s. It is a pear-shaped instrument, usually inlaid with designs made from mother-of-pearl.

Spiros Skordilis, center, and apprentices playing Greek bouzouki music at the 1987 Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

Close-up view of a bouzouki being made by Dimitris Adamopoulos at the Hollywood Music Shop – Hollywood, Florida

Spiros Skordilis was an accomplished composer and performer of the bouzouki. He recorded many hit songs while living in America, including Your Mini Dress, which was banned by Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos in 1967 as part of his widespread ban on mini skirts. Skordilis was also a dedicated teacher, participating in the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program and teaching bouzouki at Tarpon Springs Elementary School.

To hear more rebetika from Tarpon Springs, check out the additional tracks below, or listen to the podcast “Greek Music Traditions  in Tarpon Springs.”

Cretan wedding music – Kostas Maris and Nick Mastras

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I Yerakina – Grecian Islanders of Tarpon Springs

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Greek Music Traditions in Tarpon Springs

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William “Washboard Bill” Cooke

Washboard Bill was born in Dupont, Florida on July 4, 1905. He was known as a percussionist, rooted in the minstrel tradition, as well as a captivating storyteller. During much of 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 emanating from his mother’s establishment. These experiences shaped Cooke’s interest in music, and greatly influenced his rhythmic style later on in life.

Close up of William

Close up of William “Washboard Bill” Cooke

At age six, Cooke began working for a local sawmill, making 25 cents per day, after his mother fell on hard financial times. In 1916, Mrs. Cooke closed her juke joint, and sent her children to live on their grandfather’s farm in Sanford, Florida. As times grew tougher and the Great Depression set in, Cooke grew weary of his life on the farm, and decided to leave home. For ten years, he led the life of a hobo, traveling by train all over the East Coast.

William

William “Washboard Bill” Cooke poses with his washboard and cymbals

Although Cooke spent the majority of his younger years traveling outside of Florida, he still maintained a connection with the state, generally spending his winters in West Palm Beach. Between 1947 and 1963, he performed with a group called 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. Cooke moved to West Palm Beach permanently in 1973. He performed in Florida and throughout the country until his death in 2003. For his musical and historical contributions, Cooke received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1992.

Portrait of street musician William

Portrait of street musician William “Washboard Bill” Cooke on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, Florida.

In 1988, Cooke recited a personal narrative, A Hobo’s Birthday, for the Palm Beach County Folk Arts in Education Project, conducted by the Florida Folklife Program. Cooke’s story offers a fascinating account of life as a hobo during the Great Depression. His travels and experiences give the listener a vivid portrayal of transient life on the railroad tracks, and of the character Washboard Bill.

Podcast: A Hobo’s Birthday by William “Washboard Bill” Cooke

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For more information, please see:

Interview with Washboard Bill Cooke (and) Washboard Bill Cooke story: A Hobo’s Birthday

We’re on the Air!

fmradio

Florida Memory is excited to announce the launch of Florida Memory Radio, a 24-hour streaming Internet radio station playing selections from the Florida Folklife Collection. Listeners in Florida and around the world will now be able to enjoy the unique sounds of the Sunshine State anytime from their computers, tablets, or smartphones, either on the web at radio.floridamemory.com, or through the State Archives’ Facebook page.

Florida Memory Radio plays selections of music from several genres, including folk, blues, bluegrass, gospel, and music from around the world played in Florida. The programming schedule, seen below, can also be found at radio.floridamermory.com.

The music played on Florida Memory Radio comes from several sources. Much of it has been collected during field recording sessions, in which folklorists from the Florida Folklife Program have traveled all over the state to preserve its diverse musical traditions. The Folklife Program’s mission is to document and present the folklife, folklore, and folk arts of the state. The majority of the selections acquired by this program were recorded at the Florida Folk Festival, held annually at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs.

Bell School FFA String Band performs at the 1959 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

Bell School FFA String Band performs at the 1959 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

Some of the oldest material on Florida Memory Radio comes from recordings made during the Great Depression by folklorists from the Works Progress Administration. As part of Florida’s contribution to the Federal Writers’ Project of that era, field researchers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy hauled bulky equipment to various points around the state and recorded the life histories, stories, and songs of everyone from turpentine workers to Seminole Indians to convict work crews.

Zora Neale Hurston, renowned author and one of several folklorists who contributed to the Florida Federal Writers' Project during the Great Depression (circa 1930s).

Zora Neale Hurston, renowned author and one of several folklorists who contributed to the Florida Federal Writers’ Project during the Great Depression (circa 1930s).

And we’re just getting started. The Florida Memory team is exploring a variety of ways to expand and improve the content of this radio station for the enjoyment of everyone. We hope you’ll listen and let us know what you think.

Listen to Florida Memory Radio now!

Use our contact form to send us feedback about Florida Memory Radio, and let us know what other content you’d like to see added to the station’s programming schedule!

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.

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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

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

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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

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More Info: Catalog Record

Intermission

Part 2

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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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