skip navigation  The Library of Congress >> Research Centers
AFC Logo
The American Folklife Center
Connect with us:   Blog Blog  |  Facebook Facebook  |  Podcasts Podcasts   RSS RSS  | Video Webcasts
 home >> folklife in your state >> national sampler >> florida selections menu >> audio and video

National Sampler:
Florida Audio and Video Samples and Notes

The audio recordings are in mp3 format. The webcasts require RealPlayer External link software. PDF documents require Adobe Reader.External Link

Booker T. Sapps
Booker T. Sapps, Belle Glade, Florida, 1935. Photo by Alan Lomax. Photo related to the Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle Expedition Collection. [Prints and Phototographs, LOT 7414-C, no. N111]

Track 1. Booker T. Sapps. "The Weeping Worry Blues." Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle Expedition Collection, 1935. [AFC 1935/001 AFS 00369 B]  select to play [mp3]

In 1935, Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle joined forces to document African American song traditions. Lomax was assistant-in-charge of the Library’s Archive of American Folk-Song, Hurston was a native Floridian as well as an author, anthropologist, and folklorist at Columbia University, and Barnicle was a folksong scholar and a professor at New York University. Their joint collecting expedition took them to Georgia and Florida. Lomax and Barnicle continued the journey on to the Bahamas with the goal of comparing U.S. and Bahamian musical traditions. In June, 1935, while in Florida, the trio recorded performers in the heavily African-American communities of Belle Glade, Chosen, and Eatonville.

This recording of "The Weeping Worry Blues" comes from Belle Glade, which at the time was a central gathering-place for the Everglades region's seasonal agricultural workers. The performer is singer and harmonica player Booker T. Sapps, who was recorded both on his own, and as part of a trio with fellow harmonica player Roger Matthews and guitarist Willie Flowers. The trio seems to have been a well-known group in the region, and was pointed out to Lomax and Hurston soon after their arrival in the town. Sapps's repertoire was remarkably varied, including work songs, ballads, spirituals, dance music, and blues. For this reason, as well as for his virtuosic playing, he has been recognized by blues scholars as a performer who deserves wider recogntion than he has so far received.

Belle Glade is described at length in Hurston's classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, and her description is certainly based, at least in part, on her observations during this field trip. Her characters, Like Sapps and his friends, are employed as seasonal workers in a labor camp. Select this link to view photographs related to this selection. Rights and permissions.

Gabriel Brown performing with Rochelle French
Gabriel Brown and Rochelle French, Eatonville, Florida, 1935. Photo by Alan Lomax.
[Prints and Phototographs, LOT 7414-C, no. N91].

Track 2. Gabriel Brown. "John Henry." Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle Expedition Collection, 1935. [AFC 2935/001; AFS 00355 A & B] select to play [mp3]

Folklorists Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle recorded singer and slide guitarist Gabriel Brown (1910-1972) performing the classic American ballad "John Henry" in June 1935, while the team was in Hurston's hometown of Eatonville. In the first of these two versions, Brown demonstrates his skill as a slide or bottleneck guitarist. In the second, he proves he is also an expert at fingerpicking.

Brown, a graduate of the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College, was a multi-talented Floridian. His musical abilities already had been recognized: in 1934, he appeared at the first National Folk Festival in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1935, the year he recorded for the Library of Congress, Brown relocated to New York City and began a four-year tenure with the Federal Arts Theatre, initially working with director Orson Welles. His theater career also included performances in plays by Hurston, one of which Alan Lomax referred to as a "ballad opera." (Bruce Bastin, in his book Red River Blues, suggested this was the play Polk County, but other researchers believe it is much more likely to have been Hurston's earlier drama, The Great Day.)

In the late 1930s, Brown appeared as a singer on a radio station in Cincinnati. He made recordings as both a folk and pop artist during the late 1940s, only some of which were released during his lifetime. Eventually, he took a job with the civil service in New Jersey. Select this link to view additional photographs related to this selection. Rights and permissions.

Read "Proposed Recording Expitition into the Floridas," by Zora Neale Hurston, addressed to the WPA Federal Writer's Project, dated May 23, 1939. PDF, 12 pp. 659KB. (Requires the free Adobe Reader External Link). Hurston was an editor of the Florida WPA Project at that time.

Track 3. Fred Perry and Glenn Carver. "Lost Train Blues." John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. [AFC 1939/001 2717a2] select to play [mp3]

"Lost Train Blues," was recorded on June 4, 1939 at Raiford Penitentiary. It features Fred Perry on fiddle and Glenn Carver on guitar.

In 1939, after months of planning and negotiations to borrow recording equipment from the Library of Congress, the former head of the Archive of American Folk Song, John Lomax, and his wife, Ruby Lomax, left their vacation home on San Jose Island at Port Aransas, Texas, to begin an intense and fruitful field recording trip across the American South. Between March 31 and June 14, 1939, they travelled more than 6,500 miles through Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia, and collected nearly seven hundred recordings.

While in Florida, the Lomaxes made sixty-three recordings: first in Newberry, a small city in Alachua County; and then in Raiford, in Union County, where they recorded at the Florida State Farm (prison), also known as Raiford Penitentiary. They recorded both male and female inmates, including the ones on this track and the following track. Select this link to go to the online presentation of the John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip. Rights and permissions.

Track 4. Raiford Penitentiary inmates. "Take dis Hammer." John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip, 1939. [AFC 1939/001 2720a1] select to play [mp3]

This powerful example of the work song "Take dis Hammer," which has become one of the best known pieces of African-American railroad culture through recordings by many folk and blues artists, was recorded by John and Ruby Lomax on June 4, 1939, at the Raiford Penitentiary. The singers were inmates John Brown, Lonnie Thomas, Willie Howard, Paul Perkins, and Allen Reid — each of whom also recorded other songs for the Lomaxes during their three-day visit. Rights and permissions.

Track 5. Hule "Queen" Hines. "Barbara Allen." John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip, 1939. [AFC 1939/001 2714b2] select to play [mp3]

Like Tracks 3 and 4, above, this version of the ancient British ballad "Barbara Allen" (Child 84; Roud 54) was also recorded by the Lomaxes during their June 4, 1939, visit to Raiford Penitentiary. Performed by Hule "Queen" Hines in the women's dormitory, it tells the tragic story of a young girl, called "Bobby Allen" in this version, who rejects the love of little Willie and dies of remorse.

We know little more about this accomplished singer, except that she was an African American prisoner, and that she had learned the song from her grandparents. The final verse is incomplete, as the singer continued past the end of the available space on the disc, which reminds us of the challenges faced by folklorists undertaking field recording during the 1930s. Rights and permissions.

Track 6. Mrs. Nick Alvanos. "The Spiritual Brother Song." Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942, 1939. [AFS 3544A:3] select to play [mp3]

This striking Greek song, sung by Mrs. Nick Alvanos, was recorded on August 26, 1939, in Tarpon Springs on Florida's west coast, by folklorists Alton C. Morris, Robert Cook, and Stetson Kennedy. The song refers to the Greek custom of "spiritual brothers," a traditional relationship that occurs when the father of one child baptizes the child of another family, thus creating a life-long relationship between the children. (For an interview with Stetson Kennedy, see Track 19.)

The Works Progress Administration, (later renamed the Work Projects Administration or WPA), was created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. From 1935-1943, the WPA employed 8.5 million Americans on 1.4 million public projects, providing work (and pay) to those hard hit by the Great Depression. Most WPA projects involved improving the nation's infrastructure, but some focused on documenting America's cultural heritage.

From 1937 to 1942 a small but dedicated group of WPA workers, employed the Joint Committee on Folk Arts, the Federal Writers' Project, and the Federal Music Project, traversed Florida lugging a heavy, coffee-table-sized recording machine on loan from the Library of Congress, which they referred to as "The Thing." The state-of-the-art device used a sapphire needle to record sound directly onto twelve-inch acetate disks. The fieldworkers brought the "The Thing" to turpentine camps, to sawmills, into citrus groves, into the Everglades, over railroad tracks, and aboard shrimp trawlers — "wherever Florida folks were working, living, and singing."

The resulting recordings document folktales, life histories, superstitions, and sacred and secular music from communities throughout Florida, including people of African, Arabic, Bahamian, British, Cuban, Greek, Italian, Minorcan, Seminole, and Slavic background. They now form the Center's invaluable online presentation Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections.

Tarpon Springs was founded in 1905 by John Cocoris, who recruited sponge-divers from the Dodecanese Islands of Greece to establish a very successful local sponge industry. The town still boasts the highest percentage of Greek-American residents in the United States. Rights and permissions.

Read the notes on "Greek Recordings at Tarpon Springs, Florida, Recorded by John Filareton, May 12, 1940," PDF, 6 pp., 262KB. (Requires the free Adobe Reader External Link).

Track 7. Jeannie Castrounis. "Misirlou." Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942, 1939. [AFS 3548B:2]select to play [mp3]

Florida attracted large numbers Greek immigrants, and their music is well represented in the American Folklife Center's Archive. This compelling recording of the famous Greek folksong "Misirlou," sung by Jeannie Castrounis, was recorded in Jacksonville on October 4, 1939, by WPA fieldworker Alton C. Morris.

Morris referred to it as "a Greek Arabian love song," and noted that "Greeks, along with Italians and Minorcans, first came to Florida in 1768...[and] settled New Smyrna Beach, Florida. When the colony came to an end in 1777, the settlers relocated to St. Augustine."

"Misirlou" (the "Egyptian Girl") is an excellent example of how folk music can influence popular culture. Originally a popular folksong from Asia Minor, where it was widely played by Greek, Turkish, Arab, and Jewish musicians, it was frequently recorded during the 1930s and '40s by American jazz bands. In 1962, Dick Dale, an influential rock guitarist of Lebanese ancestry, recorded it with his group, the Del Tones. Dale's hit inspired the Beach Boys to record "Misirlou" in 1963, and through these hits, the song became strongly associated with West Coast surf music.

In 1994, "Misirlou" was introduced to a new generation of listeners when Dale's version was used as the opening theme music in the film Pulp Fiction. In 2006, it reappeared again as the base melody "sampled" by the Black Eyed Peas for their mega-hit "Pump It." Rights and permissions.

Track 8. Ramon Bermudez. "Five Cuban Drum Rhythms." Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942, 1939. [AFS 3386A:1] select to play [mp3]

The prolific folklorist Herbert Halpert recorded these examples of Cuban rhythms played by drummer Ramon Bermudez on June 21, 1939, at the Cuban Club, a recreational society founded in 1899 by Cuban immigrants in Ybor City, Florida.

Halpert asked Bermudez to demonstrate the rhythms, and the drummer played short examples of son ("slow rumba"), rumba ("festival"), bembé ("typical African rhythm"), conga, and maní ("probably the oldest [Cuban] rhythm known"). Now a neighborhood of Tampa, Ybor City was settled in 1886 by Cuban cigar manufacturer Vicente Martínez de Ybor, owner of a cigar company that had, Halpert noted, "moved from Key West to avoid unionization of their workers." Bermudez and his ensemble recorded three other tracks that day. Hear them online at: Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942. Rights and permissions.

Track 9. Robert Butler, Theodore "Tea Roll" Rolle and unidentified Bahaman. "Hoist Up the John B Sail." Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942, 1940. [AFS 3386A:1] select to play [mp3]

Track 10. Theodore "Tea Roll" Rolle. "Hoist Up the John B Sail," Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942, 1940. [AFS 3384B:2] select to play [mp3]

During a field expedition to Key West, Florida, in January, 1940, WPA folklorists Stetson Kennedy and Robert Cook recorded eighteen twelve-inch discs, including these two very different versions of the Bahamian folksong "Hoist Up the John B. Sail." Theodore "Tea Roll" Rolle, a singer and pianist from Andros Island, Bahamas, is the lead performer in both.

Track 9 features Rolle, accompanied by piano and a melodeon or accordion; Track 10, a more raucous version, includes guitar, piano, and a New-Orleans-tinged trombone. Rolle's singing style on Track 10 was heavily influenced by jazz great Louis Armstrong.  

This Bahamian folksong was already well known in 1940: a version had been published in Carl Sandburg's book The American Song Bag in1927, and Alan Lomax had recorded several versions for the Library in the Bahamas in 1935. The song later became a major hit for the folk revival group the Kingston Trio (1958), and the west coast rock band, the Beach Boys (1966).  Rights and permissions.

Track 11: "Mobile Bay." John Becker and Alan Lomax Recordings of Negro Longshoremen from the Ball Steamship Company, 1943. [AFC 1944/013: AFS 7092]select to play [mp3]

This recording, entitled "Mobile Bay," was among several work songs collected in Florida by folklorists Alan Lomax and John Becker. It was recorded in 1943 in the studios of WDAE Tampa, Florida, as part of CBS Radio's Trans-Atlantic Call, a program developed in collaboration with the Office of War Information during World War II. The performers, who were all African American longshoremen employed by the Ball Steamship Company, include John Henry Epps, Nathaniel Wellman, Jess Ellman and Charley Rutledge. Rights and permissions.

Track 12. Harry Jumper. "Lullaby." Harry Jumper Seminole Songs, 1954. [AFS 11427; AFC 1958/024 Track 12] select to play[mp3]

The Seminole are an American Indian tribe whose ancestry includes Lower Creeks from Georgia, Mikasuki-speaking Muscogees, free and escaped African Americans, Native Americans from other southeastern tribes, and European Americans. The tribe flourished during the colonial period, but during the early nineteenth century, friction with the newly-established United States government led to a period of prolonged conflict known as the Seminole Wars (1818-1842). Although the Seminole never signed a peace treaty — the only Indian tribe not to do so — most of the tribe was forcibly removed to Oklahoma. Those that remained in Florida retreated further into the Everglades swamp.

Today, there has been a resurgence of Seminole culture. Those that remained in Florida are known for their distinctive traditions and play an important role in the state's tourism industry. This example of Seminole music, a lullaby "to put children to sleep," was sung in Mikasuki by Harry Jumper and recorded on April 20, 1954. It was one of a series of songs recorded by Frances Densmore, a renowned ethnomusicologist and collector of American Indian music, who can be heard introducing the track. Mr. Jumper recorded twelve other songs during the same session. Used by permission of Scarlett Jumper and family. Rights and permissions.

Track 13. James Moretz. "Jungle Cruise Tour Guide," 1980. Florida Folklife Program Boat Tour Guides Collection, 1980. [AFS 22505] select to play [mp3]

Track 14. George Bower. "Glass-Bottom Boat Tour," 1980. Florida Folklife Program Boat Tour Guides Collection, 1980. [AFS 22510] select to play [mp3]

Tourism has long played a central role in Florida's economy. On November 8-9, 1980, Florida Folklife Program folklorists Ormond Loomis and Doris Dyen set out to document examples of the colorful narratives or "spiels" used by tour boat guides at Wakulla Springs. Track 13 is their recording of James A. Moretz, a guide for the "Jungle Cruise"; Track 14 features George Bower, a guide for the "Glass-Bottom Boat," whose spiel includes summoning "Henry, the Jumping Fish." Both men's narratives are examples of occupational folklore and draw upon older American narrative traditions practiced by sideshow "talkers" and circus "barkers."

Wakulla Springs, now part of the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, is the largest and deepest freshwater spring in the world. Located about fifteen miles south of the Florida state capitol, Tallahassee, this remarkable body of water was the location of several Tarzan films in the 1930s, as well as the 1954 B-movie classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. Tourists are drawn to the springs' crystal-clear water and miles of underwater caves containing the fossilized remains of mastodons and other extinct creatures. A local boat-building and guide tradition has developed to accommodate them. Used by permission of Mr. James Moretz. Rights and permissions.

Aurther L. Rehme
Aurther L. Rehme. Veterans History Project Collection. [Photographer unknown. No larger image available.]

Track 15. Arthur L. Rehme.  "Interview."  Submariner and Vietnam War Veteran, Veterans History Project, 2001. [AFC 2001/001: 37677] select to play [Webcast, RealMedia. Running time 00:03:36.]

In October, 2000, the U.S. Congress passed a law directing the American Folklife Center (AFC) to collect and preserve oral histories of American wartime veterans. This mandate led to the creation of the AFC's Veterans History Project (VHP), which enlists the efforts of volunteers throughout the nation to record interviews with American veterans and submit the resulting interviews to the Library for research and preservation purposes. To date, VHP volunteers have conducted nearly 100,000 interviews.

In the first part of this interview, presented here, Vietnam War veteran Dr. Arthur L. Rehme of Palm Coast, Florida, describes his training on the nuclear submarine USS Thresher, before it disastrous sinking in 1963, and his experiences in the Vietnam War. His interview was one of many contributed to the VHP by the Flagler County Public Library in Palm Coast. Select this link to go to the complete interview (53 minutes). Used by permission of Arthur L. Rehme. Rights and permissions.

Track 16. Cherie Shanks and James Garfield Ransom. "Interview." StoryCorps Collection, 2006. [Interview ID# MBX000945] select to play [mp3]

The American Folklife Center is proud to be the repository for the StoryCorps Collection of oral history interviews. Since its founding in 2003, the non-profit, New-York-based StoryCorps organization has documented more than 30,000 interviews. Using specially-designed recording booths, including two "MobileBooths" built into Airstream Trailers that travel to cities and towns throughout the United States, StoryCorps invites pairs of people, usually family members or lifelong friends, to interview each other about their lives and experiences. These conversations are recorded and, with the permission of the interviewees, a copy of the resulting interview is deposited at the American Folklife Center.

In this excerpt, recorded in Sarasota, Florida, on January 12, 2006, cousins Cherie Shanks Johnson and James Garfield Ransom reminisce about growing up in Florida as part of a large and prominent African American family, and recall their nanny, Ms. Devine. These oral history interviews are provided courtesy of StoryCorps,External Link a national non-profit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of their lives. Excerpts were selected and produced by the staff of the American Folklife Center. Rights and permissions.

Track 17. Quanita Fermakis. "Interview. Orlando, Florida, September 17, 2001." The September 11, 2001 Documentary Project Collection, 2001. [AFC2001015] select to play [mp3]

The American Folklife Center's September 11, 2001, Documentary Project collected the reactions of ordinary citizens in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The Documentary Project collected sound and video interviews and personal narratives, as well as photographs, children's drawings, scrapbooks, letters, e-mail, poems, ephemera, and some artifacts. Group collection projects were submitted by schools, libraries, and museums in thirty U.S. states, as well as from American military service personnel and their families in Naples, Italy. In this interview, Floridian Quanita Fermakis, whose husband is an airline pilot, describes her experiences. Used by permission of Ms. Quanita Fermakis. Rights and permissions.

Aubrey Ghent
Aubrey Ghent performing "sacred steel" music on the lap steel guitar at the Library of Congress, October 17, 2007. Photo by Megan Halsband. Aubrey Ghent and Friends Concert Collection, 2007. [AFC 2007/029].

Track 18. Aubrey Ghent and Friends Concert Collection, 2007. [AFC 2007/029]. [Webcast, RealMedia. Running time 01:05:32].

Sacred steel is a dynamic form of African-American gospel music that developed in House of God Pentecostal churches in Florida during the 1930s and 1940s. At its heart is the electric steel guitar, a single-necked country music instrument with Hawaiian roots, and a melismatic blues-influenced vocal style. During House of God services, the steel guitar served the same liturgical role as the organ does in other denominations.

Sacred steel virtuoso Aubrey Ghent, who is originally from Fort Pierce, Florida, is both a minister and a musician. He was born in 1959 into a family linked to the very beginnings of the sacred steel tradition. His uncle, Willie Eason, was one of its pioneering master performers and his father, Henry Nelson, was also a renowned player. This performance took place on October 17, 2007, in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium as part of the American Folklife Center's Homegrown Concerts series. Ghent moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2000, where he continues to play the music he learned growing up in Florida. Select this link to view a photograph of the band. Used with the permission of the performers. Rights and permissions.

Stetson Kennedy
Florida native Stetson Kennedy speaking at a reception during the symposium Art, Culture, and Government: The New Deal at 75 at the Library of Congress. Photo by Stephen Winick, March 14, 2008.

Track 19. Stetson Kennedy and "Building Democracy in America," 2005 May 24 / Stetson Kennedy with Peggy Bulger Collection. [AFC 2005/034]. [Webcast, RealMedia. Running time 00:57:49].

An interview conducted by American Folklife Center Director Peggy Bulger as part of the Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series, May 24, 2005. Select this link to view a photograph taken during this interview.

Florida native Stetson Kennedy, born in 1916, has had a remarkable career. From 1937 to 1942, he headed the WPA Federal Writers' Folklore Project in Florida, which employed folklorists like Zora Neale Hurston to collect the hundreds of traditional stories, songs, and interviews that now enrich the American Folklife Center's Archive. His 1942 book, Palmetto Country, based on the WPA material, remains a classic survey of Florida folklife.  

Stetson Kennedy was also prominent as a civil rights activist. During the 1950s, he infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan as an undercover agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and then leaked the information to journalist Drew Pearson who, in turn, exposed the Klan's nefarious work to the American public. Kennedy's book, The Klan Unmasked (1955), tells the story against the backdrop of African American human rights. Other books by Kennedy include Southern Exposure (1946), and The Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A.: The Laws, Customs and Etiquette Governing the Conduct of Nonwhites and Other Minorities as Second-Class Citizens (1973).

Kennedy was also interviewed about his WPA experience by American Folklife Center's Head of Programs David Taylor on March 14, 2008, as part of the symposium Art, Culture, and Government: The New Deal at 75. The interview is available on a webcast of the last afternoon of the symposium. The total running time for this webcast is four hours and twenty-four minutes. The twenty-eight-minute interview with Kennedy begins with an introduction at timecode 3:35:00. Move the sliding button under the video screen to go to the timecode for the interview. Used with the permission of Stetson Kennedy. Rights and permissions.


  Back to Top


 home >> folklife in your state >> national sampler >> florida selections menu >> audio and video

  The Library of Congress >> Research Centers
   November 14, 2017
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Contact Us:
Ask a Librarian