Tag Archives: Pete Seeger

Will McLean performing

Will McLean: The Father of Florida Folk

Click here to hear full length archival interviews with Will McLean  (recorded by Donna Green-Townsend in 1985 & 1987)

CD cover for a live recording by WUFT of Florida's Black Hat Troubadour, Will McLean, just 5 years before his death in 1990.
CD cover for a live recording by WUFT of Florida’s Black Hat Troubadour, Will McLean, just 5 years before his death in 1990.

Will McLean is considered the “Father of Florida Folk.”  The “Black Hat Troubadour” travelled all across his beloved state writing hundreds of poems, songs and stories.  After his death in 1990 he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.  Each year Florida singer songwriters gather at the Will McLean Folk Festival to honor him.  McLean wanted to save Florida through his music.  Each year the Will McLean Foundation holds a “Best New Florida Song Contest” to keep McLean’s mission alive.

Don Grooms sings 3 of his best songs late 70s or early 80s.mp4.Still005To watch archival video of Will McLean CLICK HERE:

 

 

 

 

Will McLean waiting to perform
Will McLean waiting to perform

Donna Green-Townsend interviewed McLean 5 years before his death in 1985 and again in 1987.  She also talked with some of the musicians who were inspired to write about Florida because of Will McLean.  (Scroll down to see the full feature transcript.  You can also hear Will’s most popular songs below)  

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In 1988 Will McLean joined storyteller Cousin Thelma Boltin and his music buddy Gamble Rogers in Cross Creek, FL for the 50th Anniversary of “The Yearling” celebration at the farm of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  See a few snippets from a rare video recorded at that event below:

 

Sign dedicated to Will McLean at Gore's Landing
Sign at Gore’s Landing

On January 24th, 1990, following a Memorial Service at Gainesville’s Historic Thomas Center, friends gathered at Gore’s Landing to disperse Will McLean’s ashes into the Ocklawaha River.  Before he died, McLean told Margaret Longhill that he had hoped to light a small campfire one last time at Gore’s Landing, his favorite campsite.

 

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Gamble Rogers speaking at the dedication at Gore’s Landing

Some of those in attendance were Margaret Longhill, Don Grooms, Dale Crider and family, Donna Green-Townsend and family, Wayne Martin and Bobby Hicks to name a few.  In this brief recording, you will hear a small portion of that special ceremony at the river:

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Doug Gauss Gamble Rogers and Sanda Jemison 1 24 1990Here is the audio of the eulogy given by the late Gamble Rogers (inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 1998) at the memorial service for Will McLean in January of 1990

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Transcription of the feature above:

Will McLean performing
Will McLean performing (photo courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation)

Will McLean, “It’s very important that Florida keep her past and I’m but one of the few writers and I have not even scratched the surface of the richness and the deepness of the lore and legends of Florida.” (Florida Sand)  

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Singer Songwriter Pete Seeger, a good friend of Will McLean
Singer Songwriter Pete Seeger, a good friend of Will McLean

Musician Pete Seeger once wrote,  “Will McLean’s songs will be sung as long as there is a Florida.”  McLean lived a simple life, always steering away from fame and fortune just when it seemed he had achieved it.  Most of the time he travelled the state in dilapidated vehicles, only taking with him a bag of taters and onions, a fishing hook and a bottle of cheap wine, pawning many of his guitars.  In a never-before aired interview, McLean shared his story in 1985, just five years before his death.

Will McLean, “I’m a millionaire a million times over.  I’m not talking about money rich.  I’m rich in the beauty of Florida and nature.”

That earthy spirit lives on today in many of the Florida songwriters attending the annual Will McLean Music Festival named in his honor. Singer Songwriter from Windsor, Dale Crider, “I think he made a lot of people in Florida aware that they could write and sing and dance and perform Florida.”

Will McLean years ago holding something
Will McLean by his travel van (photo courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation)

Florida’s Black Hat Troubadour was known for his genteel manner, but his voice thundered on the marble stage of the Florida Folklife Festival in White Springs as he captured stories in song about green turtles laying eggs on the shores of St. Augustine (Conch Island)

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and Sandhill Cranes in Payne’s Prairie, and some not so pretty stories about a wild hog in Gulf Hammock  (Wild Hog) 

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and a panther chase resulting in a deadly encounter with a snake in Tate’s Hell. (Tate’s Hell)  

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Don Grooms & Will McLean
Don Grooms & Will McLean sitting on stage. (photo courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation)

Singer-Songwriter Don Grooms was one of Will McLean’s closest musical buddies, “Will liked songs about individual human beings and if you pay attention to his repertoire of songs there was Cush Holston, Scotty the drummer, the guy in Tate’s Hell, Osceola.”  (Osceola)  

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Will McLean inspired many songwriters to explore the heritage of the state and themselves.  Grooms, a Native American, remembers how McLean encouraged him to write the story of the bloody skirmish between the Spanish explorers and Native Americans in Payne’s Prairie.

Don Grooms,  “I came up with a five minute song called “Vitachuco” and I played it for Will and he said play that for me again and after I finished he said, ‘Grooms you have finally justified your existence.”  (Vitachuco)   

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Dale & Linda Crider years ago
Early performance photo of Dale and Linda Crider after he started writing Florida songs inspired by Will McLean. (Photo courtesy of Dale Crider)

One of the first singer/songwriters to carry on Will McLean’s love for Florida through song is musician and wildlife biologist Dale Crider.  Crider has entertained national and international audiences with his wildlife and wilderness songs, and he credits his beginning to Will McLean:  (Hold Back The Waters)  

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Dale Crider,  “Hold Back the Waters was the song that started my whole career in writing about the environment.  Will was singing that on stage at the Florida Folklife Festival and I said, ya, ya, if it can be that good you know to sing about a place or a region or an object in Florida, I can do that.”

Both Dale Crider and Don Grooms helped to disperse Will McLean’s ashes into the Ocklawaha River on January 18th, 1990.  Dale emotionally recalls how his friend’s last wishes coincided so well with his on-going desire to return to the land where the wind is born.

Dale Crider,  “And I envisioned that that night there were herons and egrets that caught minnows that had Will’s ashes in them and flew him up to the tree tops and roosted him that night and actually his soul could have been transferred to something like a hawk.” (My Soul Is A Hawk)

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Painting of Will McLean by Mary Ann Dinella
Painting of Will McLean by Mary Ann DiNella

The Will McLean Music Festival honoring the Father of Florida Folk is held each March at the Sertoma Youth Ranch located seven miles west of Dade City in Central Florida.  For more information go to the website www.willmclean.com.

 

 

 

 

Will loved to watch the Florida Sandhill Cranes “dance and prance” on Payne’s Prairie near Gainesville, FL.  One of his more beloved songs described the experience.  Here’s a video recorded of sandhill cranes produced by Donna Green-Townsend with Will singing his “Courtship Dance of the Florida Sandhill Crane” to music played by musician and luthier David Beede and Kate Kennedy (music recorded at one of Will’s last live recorded concerts at the historic Thomas Center in Gainesville in Nov. of 1985).

 

Will McLean and Cousin Thelma Boltin Share Christmas Memories  (aired on WUFT in December of 1987)

Lottie and Will McLean at young ages
Early photo of Will McLean and his sister Lottie (photo courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation)

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Transcription of the Feature:  (Oh Christmas Tree)  Computerized teddy bears and video cassette recorders are a long way from the gifts of fruit and simple toys of Christmases past.  Folklorist Cousin Thelma Boltin and singer song writer  Will McLean share some of their most memorable Christmases.

Cousin Thelma Boltin:  “In early times everybody went out and cut their own Christmas trees.  It was unthinkable to buy a tree and there was no such thing as an artificial tree.  That would have been disgraceful to have an artificial tree.  And it was always a great day when we decided we’d go get the tree and we didn’t get it too long before Christmas.  But in the early days we’d go out with the horse and wagon and then in modern times we’d go out in the model T or in the Coca Cola Truck because my daddy was the Coca Cola man.  And we loved to get a Cedar, that was our favorite kind. But if we couldn’t find a Cedar, as they got scarce, um, we’d get a shortleaf pine.  It smells so wonderful in the house.  It’s a little more difficult to decorate than the Cedar and a Cypress was pretty but boy it was sticky and hard to handle and do anything with.  And once or twice I can remember, and this was before our Cedar was protected, and thank goodness it is protected, it’s against the law to cut Cedar down anywhere, I mean cut Holly, and we would get a Holly tree. And of course that was sticky, but it was beautiful because especially if it were full of berries.” (OH CHRISTMAS TREE).

Cousin Thelma Boltin
Cousin Thelma Boltin (photo courtesy of Will McLean Foundation)

Cousin Thelma Boltin:  “We never did decorate our tree until Christmas Eve and we used the parlor on state occasions and this was a state occasion so the fire would be built in the fireplace and the candles put on the mantlepiece and then we’d decorate our tree.  In early days, I don’t believe, we never did put candles on our tree.  Momma considered that too dangerous and we hailed with delight the day when we could get strings of electric lights to put on the tree.  And of course, it was easy to get pretty ornaments from Woolworths and from what was the other ten cent store, we had two in town, McCrowry’s  and get beautiful ornaments.  We never did string popcorn to go on our tree but we put ropes of tinsel on it.  And oh we just thought our tree was the prettiest one in the neighborhood of course.  A child asked me today if we ever slept in the living room you know with the tree and we said ‘oh no, Santy Claus couldn’t come if we stayed with the Christmas tree.  But of course we were up long before day to see what Santy had left us.” (Jolly ‘Ole St. Nick)

Early photo of Will McLean's grandparents
Early photo of Will McLean’s grandparents

Will McLean:  “Well, my first recollection is of a contraption bought that you could ride on.  I got a little ‘ole bitty, tiny kind of like a kitty car thing.  It was all painted up good uh, kind of a tricycle and I don’t know why I thought about that.  It was the first thing that came to my mind.  And of course over the fireplace we’d hang uh an old knit, Thelma you remember those old socks that uh they used to cost about a nickel a pair, old red and blue socks.  Kind of cotton socks.  We’d nail them up over the mantel and this was Christmas Eve.” (Silent Night)

Will & puppy
Will McLean, Florida’s Black Hat Troubadour (photo courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation)

Will McLean:  “Lady Boltin asked me once about if I could recall shootin’ firecrackers on Christmas.  And uh, I couldn’t remember ever at that early stage, early Christmases, shootin’ any kind of a firecracker or explosives.  But to get back to the stockin’ and Christmas mornin’, uh most the times I would have a little ‘ole 25 cent American Ace harmonica in the stockin’ wrapped in tissue paper and I’d have a piece of ‘ole peppermint stick candy and usually an apple, and an orange and a banana and I hope this won’t create any problems, three little nuts that uh, they were Brazil nuts.  You remember what we used to call them?(laugh) But anyway, that was Christmas and of course on Christmas Day the big ‘ole table in the dining room.  There’d be about 25 or 30 people there.  And kids runnin’ around everywhere.  All the families and mothers and their children there.  Uh, lord you could just smell the wonderful, wonderful and that, those were my Christmases up until I was about nine years of age.  And it’s good to go back there and think about it in time and place, be with my granddaddy and the people that I loved and who loved me.” (Chesnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)

Cousin Thelma Boltin, Gamble Rogers and Will McLean 1988 50th Anniv of The Yearling in Cross Creek (photo by Iris Greenfield)

Cousin Thelma Boltin:  “One of the things that we always got, we wore them out one year to the next were skates. We loved Skates and always asked Santy to bring us skates (laugh).  And always on Christmas Eve for supper we had oyster stew.  That was the Christmas Eve supper ‘cuz it was easy to fix and everybody liked it.  We could do it in a hurry and get in the living room to fix the tree (chuckle).  And that went on for many, many years.  And then I went off to college and I shocked the neighbors by not going to FSU or Florida State College for women in those days.  They weren’t allowed.  Ladies didn’t go to the University until the late 40s you know.  So I went to Emmerson College in Boston and that was truly Yankee land in everyway and so I had my first White Christmas up there.  (White Christmas) I was such a long way away that I stayed up there for the Christmas holidays and I had made friends with a fellow freshman.  Her name was Juliet Phillips and she took pity on me and invited me out to her home in Jamaica Plain and oh it was a thrill.  Everybody in Jamaica Plain it seemed to me put lighted candles in their windows from the attic to the basement and to get out on the street and see all those candles just after dark was a thrilling thing.  And we decided that we would go into Boston.  This was on Christmas Eve and up on Beacon Hill there was a tradition of having carol singers and bellringers and no cars were allowed up there.  Everybody walked.  And uh, many homes up there had open house and they’d be serving oh hot cider and goodies, doughnuts and the carol singers would be first on this corner and then on that corner.  And then we’d come upon the bellringers.  Then right at midnight over on the piazza a beautiful old Trinity church uh trumpeters stepped out and played ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’.” (Oh Come All Ye Faithful)

Many of Will McLean’s stories, poems, music recordings and photos are being housed in a special library at the College of Central Florida. Gallery of Photos below are courtesy of the Will McLean Foundation

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Will McLean Archival Audio Interviews from 1985 and 1987 (never before published)

Will McLean waiting to perform
The Black Hat Troubadour Will McLean

(Raw Interviews from 1985 and 1987 featured below)

(all photos courtesy of Margaret Longhill and the Will McLean Foundation)

In November of 1985 Will McLean showed up at my office at WUFT-FM on the University of Florida campus.    McLean, known to many as the “Black Hat Troubadour”  penned hundreds of songs, stories and poems about what he called his “beloved Florida sand.” McLean, who died in 1990, was the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

As I documented in earlier posts, McLean wanted to hang up some fliers about his November 17th, 1985 concert at the historic Thomas Center in Gainesville.  I had only lived in Florida about a year and a half at that point.  Though I had never met him and didn’t know a lot about him I did know one of his songs very well.  “Hold Back The Waters.” It was about the 1928 Hurricane that killed between 3,000 to 4,000 people.  The song had become very popular in folk music circles.  That fact alone enticed me to ask Will to sit down for an interview in 1985.  A couple of years later, after I’d gotten to know him better, I asked Will to come in for a second interview.  The two interviews have been in my personal audio archives for nearly 30 years.  I thought it was about time I shared them on my website.

Author’s note:  My voice sounds very young in these old interviews.  Also, the interviews below are from cassette dubs from the original reel to reel tapes.  Some of the 1985 cassette dubs have gotten a little scratchy over time.  I am anxious to see how the original reel to reels will sound if I can get my hands on a reel to reel machine.  The 1987 dubs from the cassette below sound much better.  I’m including both years for the sake of archival history).

I’m posting the interviews in a couple of different ways.  You can either listen to the interviews in their entirety or listen to them in separated segments (see below).

scan0004Will McLean Interview in 1985

1985 Full Interview

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Early photo of Will McLean's grandparents
Early photo of Will McLean’s grandparents

Segment 1:  Will shares stories about his grandfather and mother

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Segment 2:  Will talks about the public radio Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor

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Will McLean 8-28-58
Florida’s Black Hat Troubadour, the late Will McLean

Segment 3:  Will shares the story of his song “Hold Back The Waters”

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Will McLean0174
(l to r) Dale Crider, Will McLean and Gamble Rogers

Here’s the song Hold Back The Waters:

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Segment 4:  Will shares the story of performing at Carnegie Hall in NYC with Pete Seeger

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Will McLean0024Segment 5:  Will talks about giving his music away and his song Macclenny Farewell

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Here’s the song Macclenny Farewell:

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Will McLean 1981Segment 6:  Will shares the story of his wife Alice’s cancer battle and finding new love

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Segment 7:  Will talks about environmental concerns

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(left to right) Paul Champion, Gamble Rogers and Will McLean
(l to r) Paul Champion, Gamble Rogers and Will McLean

Segment 8:  Will talks about his friends Gamble Rogers, Paul Champion and Cousin Thelma Boltin

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Cousin Thelma Boltin, Gamble Rogers and Will McLean 1988 50th Anniv of The Yearling in Cross Creek (photo by Iris Greenfield)
Cousin Thelma Boltin, Gamble Rogers and Will McLean 1988 50th Anniv of The Yearling in Cross Creek (photo by Iris Greenfield)

Segment 9:  Will talks about the Florida songs he’s written that he’s most proud of

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Lottie and Will McLean as children from Chipley, Florida
Lottie and Will McLean as children from Chipley, Florida

 

 

Here is Will’s song Florida Sand:

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Here’s Away O’ee:

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Segment 10:  Will shares more about his Carnegie Hall performance in NYC

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Will McLean0048Will McLean Interview in 1987

Full interview with Will McLean in 1987 Part One

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Part Two of the full interview in 1987 Will addresses whether he’d ever go back to Rosewood to try and gather material for a song

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Shorter separated segments:

Will McLean0206Segment 1:  Will shares the story behind his song The Ballad of Scotty

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Here’s the song Ballad of Scotty

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Will McLean (14)Segment 2:  Will talks about the inspiration for his song Wild Hog

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Here’s the song Wild Hog:

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Will McLean (12)Segment 3:  Will shares the story of Cush Holston

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Here’s Will’s song Cush Holston:

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Will McLean (20)Segment 4:  Will gives the background on Tate’s Hell

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Here’s Will’s song Tate’s Hell:

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 Segment 5:  Will talks about his grandfather

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Will McLean performing on a set with audience on stage
Will McLean performing on a set with audience on stage

Segment 6:  Will talks about “who” he is and why

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Segment 7:  Will shares the story of being run out of Rosewood (he refers to it as Rosehill)

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Will McLean (3)Segment 8:  Will talks about the 1928 hurricane and his song Hold Back The Waters and his relationship with the Seminoles

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Here are Will’s songs Seminole and Osceola’s Last Words:

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Lais doing dance interpretation while Will McLean performed at the Florida Folk Festival
Lais doing dance interpretation while Will McLean performed at the Florida Folk Festival

Segment 9:  Will talks about his dream for a ballet featuring his songs of Florida

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Will McLean (53)
The late Cousin Thelma Boltin with Will McLean circa 1988 in Cross Creek

Segment 10:  Will talks about what he’s been writing lately

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Segment 11:  Will talking about whether he would go back to Rosewood to try and gather song material

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Segment 12:  Will talks about environmental concerns for Florida

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Pete Seeger’s ties to Will McLean, the “Father of Florida Folk”

Singer Songwriter Pete Seeger, a good friend of Will McLean
Singer Songwriter Pete Seeger, a good friend of Will McLean

One of the most enduring and loved folk singers in the U.S. has died.  Pete Seeger, who had America singing such iconic tunes as, “If I Had a Hammer” died Monday at the age of 94 at a hospital in New York.  President Barack Obama issued a statement saying, “Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song, but more importantly, he believed inthe power of community …to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be.  Over the years, Pete used his voice, and his hammer, to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation.  And he always invited us to sing along.  For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger.”

In March, 2014 Singer Songwriter from Delray Beach, Rod MacDonald, asked several other musicians and the audience at the Will McLean Folk Festival to join him in a tribute to the late Pete Seeger:

Florida's Black Hat Troubadour
Florida’s Black Hat Troubadour

While most people will be recalling the dozens of classics he helped make famous, like Turn, Turn, Turn, Where Have All The Flowers Gone, and Woodie Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, among others, there are many in the Sunshine State who will remember how Seeger reached out to the “Black Hat Troubadour” in Florida, the late Will McLean.  The two songwriters shared a deep respect for one another.

“Will McLean’s songs will be sung as long as there is a Florida.”  That’s how Pete Seeger described his friend.  That quote was shared at the 1990 memorial service for McLean who was the first folk artist inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.  President Emerita of the Will McLean Foundation, Margaret Longhill, says, Seeger and McLean were both genuine people with a great songwriting connection.  They both liked to write songs about everyday people and they both liked to have their audiences sing along.  “Pete Seeger’s songs will live forever in the hearts of those who seek truth, justice and love,” says Longhill.

the late Will McLean considered to be the "Father of Florida folk"
The late Will McLean considered to be the “Father of Florida folk”

Longhill remembers attending a Pete Seeger concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater with McLean in the mid 1980s.  Prior to the concert Seeger and McLean chatted as friends backstage.  During the concert Seeger said to the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like you to know  in this audience tonight is America’s greatest living songwriter, Will McLean.  Will McLean stand up,” recalls Longhill.

Longhill says the story that’s been passed down is that McLean and Seeger  became acquainted after McLean wrote a letter to Seeger saying, “I’m a Florida folk singer and I don’t have a guitar.”  Soon after Seeger sent him a 12-string guitar.  During McLean’s memorial service in 1990 many of his musician friends recalled with humor how that guitar was pawned as were many other guitars that followed.

While Pete Seeger will always be remembered for his part in the folk music revival in the 1960s, many in Florida will also think of him for providing McLean and the late Gamble Rogers the opportunity to perform at a folk music concert in Carnegie Hall in New York City.  Seeger loved Mclean’s earthy songs about unique characters and places in Florida such as Wild Hog, Tate’s Hell and Osceola’s Last Words.

Though Seeger travelled and wrote songs all around the country, McLean wasn’t interested in seeking fame and fortune and preferred to remain in Florida and write about his beloved “Florida Sand.”  But the two songwriters continued to have great respect for one another. Seeger even performed one of McLean’s best known Florida songs about Chief Osceola during the nationally televised “Johnny Cash Show” in 1970.  He performs that song with Cash about a minute and thirty seconds into the video.

Here’s a segment from a November 1985 interview with Donna Green-Townsend where McLean shares the story of performing at Carnegie Hall in NYC with Pete Seeger

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Here’s more about that special trip to Carnegie Hall in NYC from the November, 1985 interview with Donna Green-Townsend

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The Will McLean Foundation continues to hold a festival each year in honor of the state’s “Black Hat Troubadour.”  The festival is held each March at the Sertoma Youth Ranch near Dade City.  The festival features three stages along with various music workshops and the winners of an annual songwriting contest.  

Click here to go back to the Will McLean Festival Website.