Mississippi to Florida

Mississippi to Florida - Tallahassee

North Florida’s urban clubs and rural roadhouses, including clubs that have operated at this historic Bradfordville location, have played an important role in the history of the Gulf Coast “chitlin circuit” for touring African American blues, jazz, and R&B musicians. Mississippi-born artists B. B. King, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, and many more have performed and recorded in Florida, while some Floridians, including bluesman Benny Latimore, recorded at studios in Mississippi as well.

Florida has long provided work for traveling musicians with its many entertainment centers. Seasonal jobs in agriculture and other fields also drew itinerant bluesmen from Mississippi and other states. One of the most important early carriers of blues was the Rabbit Foot Minstrels touring revue, founded in 1900 by African American guitarist and theater owner Pat Chappelle of Jacksonville and later based in Port Gibson, Mississippi. Early vaudevillian blues performers appeared at theaters in Pensacola, Tampa, and Jacksonville, and in the 1930s Chicago bandleader and national newspaper columnist Walter Barnes, a Mississippi native who used Florida as his wintertime base, helped develop the touring circuit for African American bands in the segregation era. During and after World War II many nightclubs and dance halls emerged on the so-called “chitlin circuit” to provide entertainment for African Americans, including Pensacola’s Savoy Ballroom, Gainesville’s Cotton Club, Jacksonville’s Two Spot, Tampa’s Apollo Ballroom, Orlando’s South Street Casino, Miami’s Harlem Square, and St. Petersburg’s Manhattan Casino.

Tallahassee’s top African American club was the Red Bird Cafe. Others included the Cafe Deluxe, Green Lantern, Royal Palace, Savoy, and Two Spot.  Local musicians included Lawyer Smith, Ray Charles, and Nat and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, who became celebrated jazz performers.  In 1964 Allen Henry, Jr., his wife Marion, and his sister Inez Henry Haynes opened the C. C. Club on property the Henrys, an African American farming family, had owned since slavery time. The Henrys had a long history of hosting baseball and musical and social events here. While remaining under the ownership of the Henry family, the club brought in such renowned blues artists as Little Milton, Jimmy Rogers, and Bobby Rush under the management of Dave Claytor and Elizabeth Clark as Dave’s C. C. Club and later as the Bradfordville Blues Club under Gary and Kim Anton.

Bob Greenlee’s Kingsnake label in Sanford and Henry Stone’s various labels in Miami and Hialeah both recorded a number of Mississippi bluesmen. John Lee Hooker recorded for Stone, as did his cousin Earl Hooker, who was once based in the Sarasota area with other Mississippi musicians including Ike Turner, Pinetop Perkins, Johnny O’Neal, and Little Sammy Davis. Little Milton, a frequent visitor to Florida, was also once signed to Stone’s Glades label. Floridians who recorded in Mississippi include Pensacola bandleader Wally Mercer, Homestead native Tommy Tate, and Miami resident Benny Latimore. The interchange has also been saluted in songs such as “Mississippi Mud” by Ray Charles and “Deep Down in Florida” by Muddy “Mississippi” Waters.

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