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The rhythms of African-American culture

African-Americans' contributions to American music dates back to the days of slavery and begins with songs sung as slaves worked.

African-Americans first sang the blues, which became popular in the early 1900s. It is a style of American folk music that developed from black spirituals and work songs. The earliest published blues were composed by Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton (1890-1941).

Blues became popular in the 1920s through recordings made by such popular singers as Ma Rainey (1886-1939) and Bessie Smith (1894-1937). About the same time, delta blues evolved through black men in the Mississippi Delta region.

African-Americans from the South carried the form to northern cities during the 1930s as they migrated out of rural areas of the South hit hard by the Depression.

In cities such as Chicago, a form of urban blues developed. In the 1940s, urban blues was infused with a dance beat and became known as rhythm and blues. It influenced the development of other music forms, such as jazz and rock.

Jazz, another permanent part of American culture, also originated in the South about 1900 among black musicians. It grew out of several forms, mainly blues, ragtime, brass marching-band music, and string bands that performed at festivals.

African-American culture also gave birth to gospel, emotional religious music that developed in black American churches in the 1930s. About the time rhythm and blues grew into rock, gospel developed into soul.


Black people continue to express themselves in music and at the same time create different forms. The most contemporary creation is rap, performed by youth from urban settings.

Tampa has homegrown rap artists in members of Digital Underground. Two of its original members, the late Kenny K (Kenny Waters) and Humpty Hump (Gregory Racker), met while attending Hillsborough Community College. Humpty Hump probably is the most recognizable in his signature glasses and goofy fake nose. According to his record company, Humpty Hump adopted the glasses and nose after a traumatic accident that scarred his face and required thousands of hours of surgery.


African-American singers and musicians often were restricted from performing in many venues, but could play in juke joints, roadhouses and night clubs along what R


B artists called the Chitlin Circuit. Artists such as Count Basie, Sam Cooke, Lola Falana and Billy Daniels performed on the circuit.

The circuit had a stop in St. Petersburg at the former Manhattan Casino at 636 22nd St. S. Major artists of early eras played at the Manhattan Casino. Blues legend B.

B. King performed there. Irma Thomas, Jerry McCain, Carla Thomas and Otis Redding made stops at the St. Petersburg nightclub.

Count Basie, one of the world's foremost band leaders, brought his 17-piece band there 32 years ago. Dancing went on from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tickets were available at the door for $2.75.


Central Avenue was the center of black life in Tampa for years. The avenue had more than 30 businesses owned and operated by blacks in the first half of this century. Everything important to the black community was on Central.

One of those businesses was the famous Blue Room. During its heyday in the 1940s and '50s, the Blue Room could accommodate 1,500 people.

Choice steaks and fine liquors were served there. Prominent organizations held meetings there and fashion reviews and teas were popular.

Cab Calloway's band, B.B. King, Ray Charles and Bobby Blue Bland all played the Blue Room and some got their start on the Blue Room stage.

Source: Black Tampa: The Roots of a People by Otis R. Anthony

How black Americaans helped shape the Sunshine State

1925: Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union organized by A. Philip Randolph, born in 1889 in Crescent City, south of Palatka in Putnam County. His union works out a national contract with the Pullman Co. in 1937. It cuts working hours, increases pay, and improves working conditions. In August 1963, Randolph directs the March on Washington, where 250,000 people heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Randolph dies in 1979.

1937: Clara Frye, a nurse in Tampa, dies. During her career this daughter of a black man and an English woman was the most famous black nurse in the state. She was born in New York City in 1872, lived part of her childhood in Montgomery, Ala., and came to Tampa in 1908. She opens a hospital for black and white patients. When she dies in poverty, the mayor of Tampa calls Ms. Frye one of Tampa's outstanding citizens. In 1991, Tampa General Hospital renames a nine-floor patient-care wing the Clara Frye Pavilion.

1938: Author, composer, diplomat, educator and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson dies in an automobile accident in Maine; he was born in 1871 in Jacksonville. He also studied law and was admitted to the Florida bar. In 1900, in honor of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, he writes what is called the Negro National Anthem, Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, with his brother J. Rosamond Johnson. Later the brothers have a successful career composing musicals and operas in New York City. James Weldon Johnson is appointed consul to Venezuela and later to Nicaragua. He was a poet and novelist and also served as executive secretary of the NAACP.

1951: NAACP launches drive against school segregation in the South. On Christmas night, a dynamite blast kills civil rights leader and NAACP official Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harriett, in their home in Titusville on east coast.

1954: U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous landmark decision (Brown vs. Board of Education), rules that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

1958: Federal judge orders that blacks be admitted to Florida's graduate schools. Althea Gibson of FAMU was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. In 1957, she was the first black American to win the women's singles tennis title at Wimbledon, England.

1963: Robert "Bob" Hayes of Jacksonville, a student at FAMU, earns the reputation as the "World Fastest Human" when he establishes a world record in the 100-yard dash. He was clocked at 9.1 seconds.

1964: Civil Rights Act is passed, prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations and employment.

1965: Voting Rights Act, providing for registration of black voters, signed into law.

1967: Florida ordered to desegregate all school grades.

1968: President's National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders issues report on causes of '67 riots; identifies major causes as the existence of two separate societies in America _ "one black, one white, separate and unequal." The 1968 Civil Rights Act passes.

1969: Florida schools integrated amid marches, lawsuits and federal threats.

1975: Gov. Reubin Askew chooses a black U.S. magistrate, Joseph W. Hatchett, for Supreme Court vacancy. Hatchett, born in Clearwater in 1932, currently serves on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. U.S. Air Force Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. becomes first black four-star general. James, born in 1920 and raised in Pensacola, was a veteran of WWII and served as a fighter pilot in the Korean and Vietnam wars. James dies in 1978 from a heart attack shortly after he retires.

1980: Four ex-Miami police officers acquitted in the beating death of black insurance executive Arthur McDuffie, who had been stopped for speeding; verdict by jury sparks three days of rioting in Miami's Liberty City area; National Guard sent in, 16 people killed, 370 injured. State population is unofficially 9,740,000.

1983: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday becomes national holiday, the first honoring a black American. Air Force Lt. Col. Guion Stewart Bluford Jr., born in 1942 and a former fighter pilot in Vietnam, is first black American astronaut to fly in space.

1986: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday is observed as federal holiday for the first time.

1989: In Miami, William Lozano, a Hispanic police officer, fatally shoots Clement Lloyd, 23, a black motorcyclist, in the head. The shooting sparks racial violence. Allan Blanchard, also on the motorcycle when it crashes, dies next day. By the end of the two days of rioting that spread from Overtown to larger sections of Liberty City, 13 buildings burn, four people die and 11 people are shot. Lozano was initially convicted of manslaughter, but is acquitted in a retrial last year.

1990: President Bush vetoes the Civil Rights Act of 1990 in October, which would have allowed women and blacks greater freedom to sue for discrimination. A year later, Bush signs the bill with just minor changes in the language. The federal census puts state's population at 12,937,926, a 34 percent increase from 1980. Census figures show 1,759,539 black residents, 13.5 percent of the state's population.

-Compiled by Henry Howard


African Americans in Florida, Maxine D. Jones and Kevin M. McCarthy, Pineapple Press Inc., Sarasota.

World Book Encyclopedia

Florida Almanac

The New York Public Library Book of Chronologies

The World Almanac and Book of Facts

The Negro Almanac, a reference work on the African American

Times files.

Florida Black Heritage Trail, a publication of the Florida Department of State

The Story of St. Petersburg, Karl H. Grismer, P.K. Smith & Co., St. Petersburg.

Black authors made their mark


Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

The African-American folklorist, novelist and short-story writer was born in Eatonville, near Orlando, that was founded and governed by African-Americans. She moved away when she was 9, later studying at Barnard College in New York City. She began writing and became a part of the Harlem Renaissance literary movement in New York City. Her writing illuminated aspects of black culture. She returned to Florida and wrote here in the 1920s and '30s. Her best-known work, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), portrays a woman of African ancestry, her three marriages and her coming to understand her own identity.

Her other works included Mules and Men (1935), a study of black folkways in Florida; Tell My Horse (1938), a record of myths, magic and music in Jamaica and Haiti, and Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934), about a black preacher.

In spite of Hurston's success, the status imposed on her and other black people of her time was inescapable and is vividly illustrated by Idella Parker, a former maid of Florida novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in Idella. Parker recalls a visit Hurston made to Rawlings' home at Cross Creek in 1940.

Parker, who is black, was caught off guard when she met Hurston, the visitor for whom she would cook. She wrote:

"When the day arrived, and Zora drove up to the house, I was struck dumb. The woman was black! And here was Mrs. Rawlings, inviting her in and sitting her down on the porch like she was the queen of England."

Hurston and Rawlings shared lunch and dinner and sat talking on the porch until dusk. The two had been drinking, and, as Parker recalls, Hurston was in no condition for driving home so Rawlings invited her to spend the night.

"Imagine this now! Here was a black author who had come to visit Mrs. Rawlings and had been treated like an equal all day long, talking, laughing and drinking together on the porch for all the world to see. But when it came to spending the night, Zora would be sent out to sleep with the servants. This was not for lack of bedrooms, mind you. Mrs. Rawlings had two empty bedrooms in the house, and no one else staying in either one."


Johnson, born and raised in Jacksonville, possessed extraordinary talent. He was a novelist, poet, activist, composer, diplomat, educator and lawyer.

In 1922, Johnson compiled and edited The Book of Negro Poetry and several collections of spirituals. He wrote The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912; 1927) that first was published anonymously. It tells a story of a light-complexion black man who passes for white.

He helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served as it secretary from 1916 to 1930. He may be best known as the composer of Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, the song recognized as the black national anthem.


In Hillsborough County, Dunbar Sixth Grade Center is named for Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906), a poet and novelist known for his use of black themes and dialects. The son of a slave, Dunbar's most famous collection of poems is Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896).


ANGELA BASSETT (actor): Born in Manhattan, Bassett came here at age 4 with her mother, Betty, who was born in St. Petersburg and returned. The star of the Tina Turner biography, What's Love Got to Do With It, grew up in a Jordan Park housing complex. A 1976 graduate of Boca Ciega High School, Bassett, 34, caught the acting bug in 1974 at an Eckerd College program for gifted high school students. She later earned her master's degree in drama at Yale University. Her first high-profile roles came in Boyz In the Hood and the ABC miniseries The Jacksons: The American Dream (she was the mom). Her first breakthrough role, however, came in the film X as Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X. In January, Bassett won a Golden Globe award for her role in the 1993 movie. She's also considered a front-runner for an Oscar nomination for the same role.

AUGUSTA SAVAGE (sculptor 1900-1962): Born in Green Cove Springs on Feb. 29,1900, Augusta was the seventh of 14 children. When she was young, she played outdoors and made ducks and other animal shapes from red clay found outside her house. In 1915, she moved with her parents to West Palm Beach. There was no clay there but she found a pottery store and begged the owner for clay. She sold pieces of her work to passers-by. She later won a scholarship to Coopers Union Women's Art School. In 1923, she won a competition and was awarded a scholarship to study in France, but the award was taken away when they learned she was black. Two years later, she won another competition to study in Rome at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, but because she could not pay for her transportation, was unable to accept it. In 1929, Augusta received the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to study in Paris for two years. After returning to the United States, she received praise for many of her sculptures, including The Head of Dr. Du Bois, Lift Every Voice and Sing and Gamin.

SIDNEY POITIER (actor): Born on Feb. 20, 1927, in Miami, Poitier moved to the Bahamas with his family at a very early age. At 15, he returned to Miami, later riding freight trains to New York City, where he found work as a dish washer. He auditioned for the American Negro Theatre but was turned down. After working diligently to improve his diction, he was accepted into the theater group in exchange for performing backstage chores. He made his Hollywood debut in No Way Out in 1952. In 1967, Poitier became the first black man to receive an Oscar for a starring role, for his performance in Lilies of the Field. Other notable films include To Sir With Love, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and The Defiant Ones.

RAY CHARLES (singer): One of Florida's most successful and well-known entertainers, Charles is a wonderful example of an African-American overcoming obstacles to reach the top. Although he was born in Albany, Ga., Ray Charles Robinson moved to Greenville, Fla., just a few months after his birth in 1930. From the time he was 3 years old, Charles loved music. He began to have trouble with his eyes when he was 5. Two years later, he was completely blind. At age 7, he left Greenville to attend the State School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine. When his mother died when he was 15, Charles left school and moved to Jacksonville, where he found jobs playing piano in clubs before moving to Orlando and Tampa. By the 1950s, Charles had hit records that included I Got a Woman, A Fool for You and Georgia on My Mind. In 1992, he was inducted into the Florida Hall of Fame.