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

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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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

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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).

“Don’t be misled; we play Southern, but it’s Arab style”

The latest podcast features traditional Arab music performed by Rick and Mark Bateh from Jacksonville. Listen to the Bateh’s explain styles, techniques, and rhythms used in Arab music and demonstrate their skills to the crowd at the 1982 Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

“Don’t be misled; we play Southern, but it’s Arab style”

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For more information about Arab music, see Habib Touma, The Music of the Arabs (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1996).

Goose Culbreath and the Cortez Grand Old Opry

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Cortez is a small commercial fishing village in Manatee County, Florida. The village itself is no larger than 10 blocks, yet their annual commercial fishing festival draws crowds numbering in the thousands. Despite its size, Cortez boasts a wealth of culture, including some fine traditional music.

Fishermen hauling in the nets - Cortez, Florida

Fishermen hauling in the nets – Cortez, Florida

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Jaya Radhakrishnan Podcast

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Florida’s diverse communities support a wide number of traditions, both native to the state and brought from afar. One such example of the latter is the traditional Indian music and dance performed by Jaya Radhakrishnan of Dade City. Mrs. Radhakrishnan, frequently accompanied by her daughter Nila, made several appearances at the Florida Folk Festival, and both have participated in the Florida Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program teaching others East Indian dance and rangoli.

Jaya Radhakrishnan and unidentified man performing Indian music at the 1982 Florida Folk Festival - White Springs, Florida

Jaya Radhakrishnan and unidentified man performing Indian music at the 1982 Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

This podcast features performances by Jaya Radhakrishnan at the Florida Folk Festival from 1982-1985. She sings Indian folk songs from a repertoire spanning hundreds of years, accompanied only by the drone of her harmonium and occasional percussion from her son. Take a listen, and enjoy the sounds of India as they carry on through the Sunshine State.

Jaya Radhakrishnan teaching East Indian dance to children at the 1989 Florida Folk Festival - White Springs, Florida

Jaya Radhakrishnan teaching East Indian dance to children at the 1989 Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

1977 Portable Folk Festival

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The 1977 Portable Folk Festival was organized by the National Folk Festival Association as a way to showcase musicians from the Southeastern United States. The tour, hosted by folklorists Guy Carawan and Cece Conway, featured bluesman Johnny Shines from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, coal miner and balladeer Nimrod Workman, Bessie and Vanessa Jones of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, and the North Carolina-based Red Clay Ramblers string band.

People dancing at the Portable Folk Festival - White Springs, Florida

People dancing at the Portable Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

With a grant from the Florida Bicentennial Commission, the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center curated the Series of American Folk Music in 1977. In addition to the Portable Folk Festival, the series also brought Pete Seeger, Doc and Merle Watson, Jean Ritchie, and the Kingston Trio to the Stephen Foster Memorial amphitheater.

Johnny Shines (R) playing banjo with folksinger/guitarist Guy Carawan at the Portable Folk Festival - White Springs, Florida

Johnny Shines (R) playing banjo with folksinger/guitarist Guy Carawan at the Portable Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

This podcast features performance highlights from Johnny Shines, Nimrod Workman, Bessie and Vanessa Jones and the Red Clay Ramblers recorded April 16, 1977, at the Portable Folk Festival.

Drop on Down in Florida

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Florida was the only southern state to experience an increase in its African-American population in the first half of the 20th century. At a time when many southern black Americans were moving North in search of a better life, African-Americans from other parts of the South migrated to the Sunshine State due to its warm climate and the hope of year-round employment opportunities in the state’s varied agricultural industries.

View of workers harvesting oranges – Winter Garden, Florida

With this migration came distinct cultural traditions, in which music—both sacred and secular—played a large role. In the late 1970s, the Florida Folklife Program 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 by Zora Neale Hurston, Stetson Kennedy and other fieldworkers approximately 50 years earlier. The result was a double LP released in 1981 titled Drop on Down in Florida: Recent Field Recordings of Afro-American Traditional Music. Although the records were a valuable educational tool, they had relatively small impact at the time, and have been long unavailable to the public.

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow at a vegetable stand- Waverly, Florida

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow at a vegetable stand – Waverly, Florida

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. This is an expanded book and two-CD reissue of the double LP the Folklife Program released in 1981. 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 Library and Archives of Florida.

M.L. Long leading sacred harp singing at S.E. Alabama & Florida Union Sacred Harp Sing - Campbellton, Florida

M.L. Long leading sacred harp singing at S.E. Alabama & Florida Union Sacred Harp Sing – Campbellton, Florida

To celebrate the completion of this project, we’ve created a podcast with State Folklorist and co-editor of the book, Blaine Waide, detailing some of the work involved in the reissue process, as well as previewing a selection of field recordings made for Drop on Down in Florida. You can learn more about Drop on Down in Florida: Field Recordings of African American Traditional Music 1977 – 1980 by visiting Dust-to-Digital’s website.

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.