José Palmi and Jesús Rodríguez – Masters of Venezuelan Harp

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To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is September 15 through October 15, this month’s podcast spotlights two talented Venezuelan harp players: José Palmi and Jesús Rodríguez. Both musicians immigrated to Florida and have enriched American culture by sharing their unique tradition through performances and apprenticeships.

José Palmi playing harp

José Palmi playing harp

The harp was introduced to Latin America by Spanish missionaries primarily during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was adopted into the indigenous music of the continent as both a solo instrument and accompaniment for vocalists and instrumental ensembles. Many varieties of harp thrive throughout Venezuela, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico.

In Venezuela, the celebratory joropo, with its regional variations, is perhaps the most prominent type of traditional music from los llanos, or plains. Its rhythm is in triple meter like a waltz, but driven by syncopation and a fast-paced tempo—well suited for quick-footed couple dancing. The type of harp corresponding to this region is known as arpa llanera, on which Palmi and Rodríguez play many examples of Venezuela’s música llanera, or music of the plains.

Jesus Rodriguez playing the Venezuelan harp- Naples, Florida

Jesús Rodríguez playing the Venezuelan harp- Naples, Florida

The performances featured in this podcast were recorded on two separate occasions. José Palmi was recorded to digital audio tape at his home in Miami on June 27, 1993. Jesús Rodríguez, accompanied by his seven year-old-son Henry on maracas, was recorded to open reel tape at the 1986 Florida Folk Festival.

Key West Junkanoos

Florida’s close proximity to the Caribbean islands has introduced a variety of rich cultural celebrations to the state. In this podcast we explore some of the music that grew out of the Bahamian Junkanoo parades as we listen to the Key West Junkanoos.

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Employed by the City of Key West, the Junkanoos were led by bassist Bill Butler, pianist Lofton “Coffee” Butler, and featured percussionists Charles Allen, Kenny Rahming, Joe Whyms and Alvin Scott. They appeared often at the Florida Folk Festival from 1977-1991.

Key West Island Junkanoos peforming at the Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, 1983

Key West Island Junkanoos peforming at the Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, 1983

The origin of the name Junkanoo is a matter of debate. Some say it is derived from the name of 18th century African Gold Coast leader John Connu. Others have looked to similar sounding phrases such as the French for “masked people,” gens inconnu. Bahamian Junkanoo parades can be traced back to the 1800s when African slaves would gather, don masks, and celebrate with music and dance on Christmas Day. The parades have evolved to become huge tourist attractions and occur in two stages or rushes: the first on Boxing Day (December 26) and the second on New Year’s Day. This tradition was carried to Key West and Miami by Bahamian immigrants of African descent.

The Key West Junkanoos have distilled the sounds of the parades’ marching bands into their own repertoire of original material, as well as performing classic Calypso tunes such as “The John B. Sails,” “Island in the Sun” and “Yellow Bird.” The recordings in this podcast are from the Junkanoos’ performance at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival’s Main Stage.

 

Happy Birthday Cousin Thelma (August 31, 1904)

Thelma Boltin at the Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, Florida (1960)

Thelma Ann Boltin, affectionately known as “Cousin” Thelma, was a storyteller, emcee, teacher and long-time director of the Florida Folk Festival. Her dedication to sharing Florida’s folk traditions brought diverse groups of artists to the festival each year, and established the festival’s reputation for celebrating unique and varied cultures.

Born in South Carolina, she was raised in Gainesville and taught theater in schools and community centers. Here’s a clip of Cousin Thelma discussing the history of the Florida Folk Festival and various folk tales.

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Wakulla Springs Boat Tours Podcast

“Wakulla Springs Boat Tours Podcast”

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Tour boat guide Wilbert Gavin: Wakulla Springs, Florida

Tour boat guide Wilbert Gavin: Wakulla Springs, Florida

Alligators, snakes, rare birds and Native exoticism are all pinnacles of Florida’s tourism industry. Wakulla Springs State Park offers visitors the chance to experience all of these things and more under the guidance of clever and knowledgeable guides. In this month’s podcast we’ll examine the oral traditions of the Wakulla Springs boat drivers.

Sandgren family enjoys a glass bottom boats: Wakulla Springs, Florida (1946)

Sandgren family enjoys a glass bottom boats: Wakulla Springs, Florida (1946)

Glass-bottom boat tours are certainly not exclusive to Wakulla Springs. They have been a long-standing attraction in Silver Springs, Homosassa Springs and Rainbow Springs, among others. Boat tours in Wakulla Springs date back to the late 1800s. Right up through recent history, descendents of the first boatmen of the Springs have followed in the footsteps of their forefathers, and their chants, jokes and stories have been passed down through the generations.

Henry the pole-vaulting fish at Wakulla Springs: Wakulla Springs, Florida

Henry the pole-vaulting fish at Wakulla Springs: Wakulla Springs, Florida

Now keep your hands and arms inside the boat, and enjoy the mysterious waters of Wakulla Springs!

 

Happy Birthday Mary Smith McClain (August 27, 1902)

“St. Louis Blues”

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More Info: Catalog Record, Where the Palm Trees Shake at Night: Blues Music from the Florida Folklife Collection

“Give A Poor Dog A Bone”

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Mary Smith McClain, also known as “Diamond Teeth” Mary for the jewels she once had embedded in her teeth, or “Walking Mary” for her notorious renditions of the “Walking Blues,” was a blues and gospel singer. Born in West Virginia, she began her singing career at the age of 13 performing in medicine shows as well as alongside the likes of her half-sister Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. In 1960, she settled in Manatee County, Florida, married her husband Clifford, and became a devoted gospel singer.

Mary McClain singing gospel: White Springs, Florida (1983)

Mary McClain singing gospel: White Springs, Florida (1983)

Diamond Teeth Mary was rediscovered by folklorist Steven Zeitlin in the 1980s, and performed regularly at the Florida Folk Festival from 1981 until her death in 2000. Her renewed fame brought additional performances across the United States and Europe, including the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. She received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1986.

 

Keith Brown – “Judge Harsh Blues”

The Memphis-born bluesman Keith Brown lays down an excellent rendition of Furry Lewis’s “Judge Harsh Blues” at the 2000 Florida Folk Festival.

Earlier that year, Brown held residency at the Bamboo House in Lake Worth, and recorded his debut album Got to Keep Movin’. In addition to his music career, Keith Brown has portrayed blues legends on film, including Son House in Stop Breakin’ Down and Skip James in The Soul of a Man.

“Judge Harsh Blues”

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Miami-Dade Folklife Survey Podcast

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Gynin playing conga drum during Jamaican Independence Day festival: Miami, Florida

Eddie Massena from Rasta Samba Gynin playing conga drum during Jamaican Independence Day festival: Miami, Florida (1985)

As part of their research, the Florida Folklife Program selects and surveys a particular region or tradition. The Dade Folk Arts Survey was conducted from 1985-1986 by folklorists Tina Bucuvalas, Nancy Nusz and Laurie Sommers with the goal of finding folk artists to bring to the 34th annual Florida Folk Festival. Many of the recordings found in the collection are the result of fieldwork conducted by folklorists. Their findings are extensively documented through field notes, sound recordings, photographs and video.

Manolo Franco playing Venezuelan harp during a rehearsal: Miami, Florida (1985)

Manolo Franco playing Venezuelan harp during a rehearsal: Miami, Florida (1985)

This podcast contains a sampling of recordings from the Miami-Dade region as found in the Dade Folk Arts Survey.  While Latin American, Haitian and Jewish cultures were most prominently represented, the survey also covered a wide range of traditions, including shoe rag popping, Middle Eastern music, Jamaican stories and dance, and Irish fiddling.

Klezmer musician Jaime Bronsztein performing at the Traditions Festival: Miami, Florida (1986)

Klezmer musician Jaime Bronsztein performing at the Traditions Festival: Miami, Florida (1986)

We hope you enjoy the variety of traditions captured in the Dade Folk Arts Survey, and look forward to sharing more fieldwork from the Florida Folklife Collection in the future.

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Abner Jay

Having worked in traveling medicine shows and vaudeville revues since the age of five, Abner Jay (1921-1993) rightly described himself as the “last working Southern black minstrel.”

As a solo performer, this one-man-band played banjo, bones (which he describes during the introduction to “Rattle These Bones”), harmonica, and percussion while singing traditional field songs, Pentecostal hymns, and minstrel tunes alongside eccentric original material. Abner Jay traveled down the Suwannee to White Springs from his riverside home in Georgia for the 1977 Florida Folk Festival, and gave the audience a memorable history lesson on American music.
 
“Hambone”

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“Rattle These Bones”

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Banjoist and bones player Abner Jay performs at the Florida Folk Festival: White Springs (1977)

Banjoist and bones player Abner Jay performs at the Florida Folk Festival: White Springs (1977)

Arthel “Doc” Watson (March 3, 1923 – May 29, 2012)

Guitarist Doc Watson died on Tuesday at the age of 89. Hailing from Deep Gap, NC, his impressive flat-picking, deep baritone voice and gift for storytelling captivated audiences around the world. Although he didn’t begin his professional musical career until the age of 40, Watson grew up playing a variety of styles and instruments. His willingness and ability to embrace and interweave a broad spectrum of genres earned him many prestigious accolades, as well as a long list of collaborators and fans.

We look back on Doc Watson’s legacy with a podcast featuring his performance with Jack Lawrence at the 1996 Florida Folk Festival’s Old Marble Stage.

Doc Watson and Jack Lawrence

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Additional recordings of Doc Watson from the Florida Folklife Collection can be found on the CD Look a Yonder Comin’… and in the Florida Folklife Collection database.

Pete Seeger Podcast

In 1977, the Florida Folklife Program sponsored a series of free concerts by nationally renowned folk musicians at the Stephen Foster Center in White Springs. Included in the lineup were Jean Ritchie, the New Christy Minstrels, the Kingston Trio, Doc and Merle Watson, and Pete Seeger, who turned 93 on May 3. To celebrate Pete’s birthday, we’ll revisit his performance recorded 35 years ago in this month’s podcast.

Born in New York City, Pete 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.

Pete Seeger wrote about Florida in his music as well. “Delbert Tibbs” is an ode to the African-American poet who was wrongfully convicted of murder and rape in 1974 and sat on death row in Raiford State Penitentiary until January of 1977. The song helped procure justice for Tibbs, and in 1982, all charges against him were dismissed.

Today, at the age of 93, Pete Seeger is still performing, recording and promoting social justice. Let’s hand the microphone over to our mistress of ceremonies, Thelma Boltin, and sing along as Pete picks the banjo and strums his 12-string guitar.

Part 1

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Intermission

Part 2

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