Florida: Home of Musicians of Note

By: Gary McKechnie


After writing a blog about Apopka’s John Anderson who wrote and sang the classic song ‘Seminole Wind’ I began thinking of other musicians from Florida who’ve gone on to national and sometimes international success.

This round-up certainly isn’t complete but consider putting some of these musicians on your playlist and recalling that each found inspiration in the people and places of Florida – even if they weren’t from Florida.

• Stephen Foster. The gifted composer created what would become Florida’s state song Old Folks at Home in 1851. The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs is a must-see.

• Desi Arnaz. In the 1930s the young Cuban exile created America’s conga craze at Miami’s Roney Plaza Hotel.

• Ray Charles. Raised in Greenville and learning music at St. Augustine’s Florida School for the Deaf and Blind Ray Charles first hit the charts in 1955 with I Got A Woman.

• Elvis Presley. As an up-and-coming musician he toured Florida frequently between 1954-1956. Notably his first national number one hit was Heartbreak Hotel a song written by Mae Boren Axton who made a living as an English teacher at Jacksonville’s Dupont High School.

• The Beatles. They performed live from Miami’s Deauville Hotel during their second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964.

• Tom Petty. The rocker whose voice and music merges Dylan with The Byrds was inspired when he met Elvis who was filming "Follow That Dream" near Gainesville in 1961.

• Jim Morrison. Born and raised in Melbourne Morrison would attend – but never complete – school at FSU before moving to Los Angeles where he formed The Doors.

• Debbie Harry. The woman who fronted the New Wave band Blondie was born in Miami (but raised in New Jersey).

• Gamble Rogers. A folk musician and storyteller the Winter Park native was known for celebrating Florida folklore in his songs and tales. In 1991 he passed away a hero while attempting to save the life of a drowning man. The Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach was named in his honor.

• Gram Parsons. Raised in Winter Haven the young musician who died at 26 was instrumental in bridging the gap between rock and country first as a member of The Byrds and next as a founder of The Flying Burrito Brothers.

• The Bee Gees: For years the Brothers Gibb called Miami home. Surviving brother Barry is now performing at sold-out solo concerts.

• John Anderson. The country music star was born and raised in Apopka and had his first hits in the 1980s.

• Rob Grill. The lead singer and bass player for the Grass Roots left his home state of California for the hills of Mount Dora where he lived until his passing in 2011.

• Gloria Estefan. The singer who fronts The Miami Sound Machine was born in Havana raised in Miami and played small gigs around South Florida before breaking through with a series of hits in the mid-1980s.

• Creed. One of the biggest rock bands was formed in Tallahassee in 1993. From their album ‘Human Clay’ the song Higher was on the charts for 17 weeks.

• NSync and the Backstreet Boys. From Orlando the pop bands were crafted to sell records and make teenage girls giddy. They did both very very well.

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