© 2023 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hear Florida's Black History Through Song

Wikimedia Commons

The unnamed hurricane that devastated South Florida in 1926 left hundreds dead and caused an economic crisis. The powerful storm remained in the minds of survivors and their descendants for years. In 1940, it was commemorated in song by a group of black men from Kenansville, Fla.

You can listen to the rare recording below, because the Library of Congress last week released it and several other old-Florida folk hymns as part of its "Songs of America" series.  The 80,000 tracks pan a century of American culture, with several pieces from Florida.

Keep reading to hear the hurricane song and some stories of Florida's old black culture.

Zora Neale Hurston sings a Bahamian song about a man who is complaining that his wife is "wanting whiskey brandy all the time." The man in the song explains to his neighbors why it is that he and his wife don't get along well. Hurston performed "Mama Don't Want No Peas, No Rice" at the Federal Music Project Office in Jacksonville, Fla. on June 18, 1939:

Zora Neale Hurston singing a Bahamian folk song "Mama Don't Want No Peas, No Rice" 1939

James Griffin was a 21-year-old Tenn. native who was imprisoned in Dixie County, Fla. for not paying the rent to the lumber company he worked for due to illness.  He tells the two men interviewing him of his past before he begins singing about "working like a flea" in the song "Worked All Summer," recorded in the office of the Aycock & Lindsey Turpentine Camp in Cross City, Fla., on Aug. 19, 1939:

James Griffin performs "Worked All Summer Long" in Cross City in 1939

Born in Georgia and raised in Florida, Harold B. Hazelhurst learned the song below from muleskinners who sang it to boost morale during their arduous work days. Hazelhurst performed it at the Federal Music Project Office in Jacksonville on June 18, 1939.

Harold Hazelhurst sings "Captain's Mule Part 1 & 2" Jacksonville,1939

Another performance by Zora Neale Hurston is a popular southern-blues song. Hurston mentions the same line is repeated three times with a subtle flip line at the end. She performed it in Jacksonville on June 18, 1939, at the Federal Music Project Office.

Zora Neale Hurston performs "Po Gal" Jacksonville, 1939

To discover more folk songs, field recordings, and other media from the nation's past, visit: Library of Congress, Songs of America.

More On This Topic