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.
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.
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.
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.
Sir Charles Atkins, also known as Professor of the Blues, has been letting us know that “the blues is alright” since he first sat down at the communal piano in his dorm at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine. Atkins is a notable performer, recording artist and teacher. He’s toured the country and shared the stage with multiple groups including the D and B Romeos, who he joined at the School for the Deaf and the Blind, and the Blues Boys. When he’s not playing out live or in the studio, the Professor of the Blues teaches the Blues Lab at Florida State University. In addition to teaching at FSU, Atkins also participated in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program (1995-96). Charles Atkins was awarded the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 2002 for his musical accomplishments and willingness to share his knowledge and experience with others.
In honor of his birthday, please enjoy two selections from Sir Charles Atkins’ appearances at the Florida Folk Festival:
“Key to the Highway”
For more information about his life, upcoming performances and discography, visit the Charles Atkins homepage at http://www.downhomebluesband.com
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.
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.
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.