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.

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)

Henry Ford (1863-1947)

Henry Ford, industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company, was born on this day in 1863. Ford maintained a winter home in Fort Myers, near his friend and fellow giant of American innovation, Thomas Edison.

Thomas A. Edison, John Burroughs and Henry Ford, Fort Myers, ca. 1914

Thomas A. Edison, John Burroughs and Henry Ford, Fort Myers, ca. 1914

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Author Ernest Hemingway, born on this day in 1899, is perhaps the most famous former resident of Key West. Only one of his books, To Have and Have Not (1937) was set in the southernmost city, but Hemingway logged many hours perfecting his craft at his Whitehead Street home. An avid fisherman and boater, Hemingway enjoyed all that Key West had to offer.

Ernest Hemingway with bill fish, Key West, 1940s

Ernest Hemingway with bill fish, Key West, 1940s

Cat in front of the Hemingway House, Key West, 1993

Cat in front of the Hemingway House, Key West, 1993

Happy Birthday Moses Williams (February 15, 1919)

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow- Waverly, Florida

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow- Waverly, Florida

Moses Williams (1919-1988) was born February 15 in Itta Bena, Mississippi. He spent much of his life traveling, either in show business or working as an itinerant farm worker, which eventually brought him to Florida.

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow for a group of boys- Waverly, Florida

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow for a group of boys- Waverly, Florida

At the age of 11, he learned the harmonica, but it was his one-string zither, or “diddley bow,” that made him unique. The instrument was comprised of a broom wire tensioned upside a door with a tin can resonator, and played with glass bottle slide. It earned him nicknames like “Broom Wire Slim” and “Doorman.”

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow - White Springs, Florida

Moses Williams playing the diddley bow – White Springs, Florida

Moses was discovered by folklorist Dwight DeVane in the late 1970s, and appeared on the Florida Folklife Program’s 1981 double LP, Drop on Down in Florida, which was recently reissued by Dust-to-Digital. In addition to these recordings, Moses made several appearances at the Florida Folk Festival, schools, and other folk arts forums around the state.

His distinctive repertoire for the diddley bow consisted of both standards such as “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and original tunes, most notably “Which Way Did My Baby Go” and “Apple Farm Blues.” Both of these songs have been included on the Florida Folklife Collection sampler CDs Music from the Florida Folklife Collection and Where the Palm Trees Shake at Night: Blues Music from the Florida Folklife Collection.  Enjoy.

“Which Way Did My Baby Go”

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“Apple Farm Blues”

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Jackie Robinson, Daytona Beach and Desegregation

City Island Ball Park, Daytona Beach, circa 1940

City Island Ball Park, Daytona Beach, circa 1940

Today is the birthday of Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972).

City Island Ball Park, renamed Jackie Robinson Ball Park in 1990, was built circa 1915. Daytona Beach was the first city in Florida that allowed Robinson to play during spring training in 1946 when he was a member of the Montreal Royals of the International League.

Both Sanford and Jacksonville, citing segregation laws, refused to let Montreal play an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, parent club of Robinson’s Royals. Daytona Beach agreed to the game, which was played on March 17, 1946.

As a result of the resistance by Jacksonville, the Dodgers moved spring training to City Island Ball Park, and in 1948 built Dodgertown in Vero Beach. Jackie Robinson Ball Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968)

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed each year on the third Monday of January, near Dr. King’s birthday (January 15, 1929).

Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr. in Saint Augustine, Florida (1964)

Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr. in Saint Augustine, Florida (1964)

Dr. King led and participated in countless demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement. Two films from the collections of the State Library and Archives of Florida contain footage of Dr. King from demonstrations in St. Augustine, Florida, and Selma, Alabama.

 

Happy Birthday Don Grooms (January 12, 1930)

Don Grooms at the 1988 Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, Florida

Don Grooms at the 1988 Florida Folk Festival: White Springs, Florida

Don Grooms was a favorite among fans of Florida Folk, and appeared regularly at the Florida Folk Festival. Although he was born in Cherokee, North Carolina, Grooms spent much of his life in Florida, and taught journalism at the University of Florida. He received the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1996 for his songs filled with wit and dry humor inspired by Florida and Native American life. In addition to live performances, which often found him on stage with like-minded artists such as Chief Jim Billie, fiddler Wayne Martin, and Will McLean, he recorded some his best-known songs on the 1980 album Walk Proud My Son.

In honor of his birthday, here are some recordings of Don Grooms and friends from the Florida Folklife Collection.

“Walk Proud My Son”

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More Info: Catalog Record

“I Believe”

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“Chicken Bone Special”

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Look, Elvis!

Today is the birthday of The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935.

Elvis Presley and fan Ardys Bell after his performance in the Gator Bowl - Jacksonville, Florida

Elvis, with Ardys Bell, after his performance at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, February 1956.

Happy Birthday Eartha M.M. White (November 8, 1876)

Eartha with her mother Clara White: Jacksonville (ca. 1910)

Eartha with her mother Clara White: Jacksonville (ca. 1910)

Eartha M. M. White was a humanitarian, businesswoman and philanthropist from Jacksonville. She created educational opportunities and provided relief to African-Americans in northeastern Florida. White helped found several organizations and institutions, including the Clara White Mission, Mercy Hospital and the Boy’s Improvement Club. She was designated as a Great Floridian by the Florida Department of State in the year 2000.