Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942

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Research Materials from the Florida WPA Collections

"Proposed Recording Expedition into the Floridas"

A seven-page essay about Florida folklife written by Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston, originally of Eatonville, Florida, was already a published novelist and folklorist when she took a job with the Federal Writers' Project in Florida. She wrote this essay in preparation for the visit of Herbert Halpert (director of the folk song department of the National Service Bureau, Federal Theatre Project) as part of the Southern recording expedition sponsored by the Joint Committee on Folk Arts and Library of Congress. Carita Doggett Corse, state director of the Florida Federal Writers' Project, forwarded it to B. A. Botkin, national folklore director for the Federal Writers' Project and chairman of the Joint Committee on Folk Arts of the WPA. Corse explained, "[Halpert's] trip was cut short so that only a few of these recordings were made. Zora Neale Hurston completed contacts for Negro recordings at the turpentine camp in Cross City and in Tampa before she was called to Philadelphia."

Recording Logs

Two lists of song titles and performers, documenting two of the five recording expeditions featured in this online presentation. The first, a five-page excerpt from Herbert Halpert's Southern recording expedition log, covers the June 18-21, 1939, recording sessions in Jacksonville and Tampa (AFS 3135a1-3146b3). The second, nine pages, lists the recordings made by Stetson Kennedy and Robert Cook in Riviera and Key West, January 15-31, 1940 (AFS 3378a1-3395b2).

Textual Transcriptions

Transcriptions of the song texts of twenty-five of the songs collected by the Florida WPA fieldworkers, plus detailed logs, including song text and transcriptions of speech, for thirteen of the disks recorded by the fieldworkers. The extant song-text transcriptions were derived primarily from the recordings of Bahamian Americans and Cuban Americans made in Riviera and Key West in January 1940. Lyrics were transcribed in the original language and translated into English. The partial set of disk logs documents the recordings made in Jacksonville, Cross City, and Ybor City in August 1939 by Stetson Kennedy and Robert Cook, as well as the recordings of Greeks made at Tarpon Springs in May 1940 by John Filareton.


Images and transcriptions of sixty-five items (seventy-nine pages) of correspondence written before, during, and after the recording trips. The correspondence included in this collection comprises typed and handwritten manuscripts and telegrams. Much of the communication is between Carita Doggett Corse, state director of the Florida Federal Writers' Project, and Harold Spivacke, chief of the Music Division at the Library of Congress from 1937 to 1972, regarding the progress of the fieldwork.

Map of Florida (From the General Maps Collection)