By Kathy Collins
Did you know that Hudson Whittaker, better known as Tampa Red, released more 78 rpm records than any other blues artist? Or that Ray Charles refined his rhythm and blues piano style while playing night clubs on Tampa’s Central Avenue? Did you know that Blind Blake, one of the greatest ragtime and blues guitarists, is connected with Jacksonville?
These early bluesmen are just a few of the musicians featured in Florida’s Got the Blues, a new exhibition now open at the Tampa Bay History Center (History Center) located in downtown Tampa.
The newest exhibit at the History Center will run through Sunday, January 3, 2016. It will highlight Florida’s blues music legacy, showcasing the artists who played juke joints and night clubs from the panhandle to Miami, through photos and interactive audio recordings. Visitors will get to spin blues records in the gallery or pick up an acoustic guitar and compose their own blues riffs.
In addition to Florida’s Got the Blues, the show will also include a collection of rock-n-roll photography from the archives of the Tampa Bay Times featuring performers who have played on stages across Tampa Bay including Elvis, Tom Petty, The Ramones and U2.
Florida’s Got the Blues is part of the Museum of Florida History’s Traveling Exhibit (TREX) program. The Museum of Florida History is located in Tallahassee.
“Florida’s Got the Blues is one of several traveling exhibitions we have hosted this year. The History Center presents exhibitions on a wide range of topics, everything from Hollywood costumes to Florida in the Civil War. The bay area’s music and blues history is a topic on which we have not yet touched,” said Manny Leto, director of marketing for the History Center.
“Although the blues was not born in Florida, the state was certainly part of the South’s musical heritage. The African American community certainly played and listened to the blues, and the bay area hosted nationally-known traveling rhythm and blues musicians who played the segregated ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’ of blacks-only night clubs, juke joints and hotels,” said Leto in explaining the significance of the exhibit to the area.
In addition to Florida’s Got The Blues, the History Center is hosting St. Augustine at 450: A Look at the Oldest City in the U.S., an exhibition featuring rare maps, lithographs and other documents from the oldest continuously-occupied settlement in America. The exhibit is on view through the fall in the Touchton Map Gallery.
For Halloween aficionados, you will not want to miss A Night At The Museum on Sunday, October 18. Families are invited to haunt the History Center while they trick or treat their way through hands-on exhibits and snag candy from historical figures come to life. In addition to characters from the past, the Real Tampa Bay Ghostbusters will be on hand, along with Storm Troopers and other Star Wars characters from the 501st Legion.
A Night at the Museum will also include a costume contest for prizes, crafts and games for kids, and a book signing by Haunted Tampa author Deborah Frethem.
This year, there are two sessions from which to choose. Trick-or-Treaters can haunt the History Center from either 3:30-5 p.m. or from 5:30-7 p.m.
A Night at the Museum is open to children of all ages with adult companion. Advance tickets are $10 per child and $13 per adult. Tickets to A Night at the Museum are available at tampabayhistorycenter.org. A limited quantity will be available at the door, and prices will increase on the day of the event.
The Tampa Bay History Center is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate. The History Center includes three floors of permanent and temporary exhibition space focusing on 12,000 years of Florida history. The History Center’s cutting-edge interactive exhibits provide a unique educational experience for all ages.
For more information on Florida’s Got The Blues, St. Augustine at 450: A Look At The Oldest City In The U.S. or A Night At The Museum, contact the History Center at 228-0097 or visit www.tampabayhistorycenter.org.