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USF Libraries Exhibits

African American Expression

The African-American tradition of music in Florida is extensive and fascinating. Slavery and the Old South is the main theme of this genre’s beginnings. When Florida began to grow in population in the 1800s, northern Florida contained climates adequate to support cotton farming and plantation life. Thus, many slaves were located here and had opportunity to start creating folk songs to be learned throughout the state. Early in the 20th century, articles written for the Federal Writer’s Project (in association with the Works Progress Administration) could be seen describing some early history of the development of music in the African-American community. It was not uncommon for African-American musicians to go from performing on street corners to performing for large audiences in theaters.

Continuing, African-American music developed into more genres. One journalist, Diane Turner, wrote: “From the early twentieth century to the untimely demolition of Central Avenue [in Tampa] in 1974, Black musical genres ranged from swing and jazz to gospel and blues to rhythm and blues and soul music.” Gospel choirs originated from the religious background that many African Americans held as church attendees. Also, the jazz scene grew and developed greatly throughout the beginning of the 20th century.