Florida Has the Blues

By Douglas C. Lyons

Who would have thought the first published account of blues singing on a public stage took place in Florida? Hard to imagine with more popular musical venues like Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis, not to mention the Mississippi Delta.

However, Jacksonville grabbed a spot in music history with the performance of Professor John W. F. “Johnnie” Woods, a ventriloquist who incorporated the blues into his act. A reviewer for the Indianapolis Freeman saw the show and wrote in the paper’s Stage section that Woods and his dummy, Henry, “set the Airdome wild by making little Henry drunk.”

It all took place on April 16, 1910 in the city’s LaVilla neighborhood, then the city’s segregated black neighborhood. Actually, during the early 1900s, LaVilla was known for its thriving business community and culture.

Jacksonville was so prominent among blacks that it was once dubbed “The Harlem of the South.” The city still has a significant black presence, but who knew it had a place in music history as a place where the Blues began.

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.