|Florida Artists: Will McLean|
by many to be the "Father of Florida Folk," Will McLean spent most of
his life traveling the state of Florida, and writing over 3,700 songs
and stories. He became known as the "Black Hat Troubadour" because of
the black hat he wore everywhere. In 1989, McLean was a recipient of the
Florida Folk Heritage Award and the annual Florida Folklife Festival in
White Springs was dedicated to him. In 1987, Pete Seeger called Will
McLean the "greatest living songwriter in America today."
During his life, Will McLean wrote over 3,700 songs and stories. He always said, "My Soul Is a Hawk." Three of his most important songs were Hold Back the Waters, Wild Hog, and Ballad of the Green Turtle. His songs are extremely descriptive - they record dates, names, numbers, and traditions. A fifth generation Floridian, many of Will McLean's songs played an early role in the pro-environmental movement. McLean also wrote "Osceola's Last Words," a stirring tribute to the Seminole chief. Michael Peter Smith, with his wife Barbara Barrow, recorded the best-known version of this song.
Will McLean is best known as Florida's premier folk song writer. McLean was born in 1919 near Chipley, Florida. He spent most of his life in the woods and writing songs. McLean's love of music was nurtured by his grandfather who gave him his first instrument, a gourd and cornstalk fiddle with a horsehair bow. At the age of six, he wrote his first song, "Away O'ee." Many say he was a sweet man with a streak of contrariness. This trait compelled him to turn his back on celebrity status and to covet his privacy, forsake material comfort and steer clear of regular jobs - even to feud with his friends! McLean's love of Florida developed as he traveled around the state from the Panhandle hardwood hammocks to the vast sea of grass called the Everglades - camping in wilderness areas, visiting friends and absorbing Florida's history
Songs about people like Acre Foot Johnson and about how the first Seminole War started, came out of those travels and visits through out the state of Florida. Though Will McLean spent his life traveling the state, he took time out for concerts and festivals. McLean performed at New York City's Carnegie Hall and was sought after for concerts, festivals and school programs.
In the fall of 1989 Will McLean received the Florida Heritage Award for outstanding cultural contributions. The annual folk festival at White Springs, Florida was dedicated to him. On April 17, 1996, Will McLean was inducted into the prestigious Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
Cancer claimed the life of Will in January 1990. He was laid to rest on the banks of the Oklawaha River at Gore's Landing where a permanent marker honors him. On January 24, 1990 friends of Will McLean gathered at the Thomas Center in Gainesville, Florida to honor his memory. His fellow musicians sang his songs and shared reminiscences about their beloved "Black Hat Troubadour." Although Will McLean died in 1990, his songs will live forever in the hearts of those who love this "blessed, bloodstained, flowered land."
The Will McLean Foundation was established shortly before Will's death in January 1990. Incorporated by the State of Florida as a not-for-profit organization, its goals are to promote, in the State of Florida and elsewhere, the works of Will McLean and the works of other Florida artists. The Foundation also provides for research, education, performance and training to promote understanding and appreciation of the works of Florida's artists. Pro-active goals of the Will McLean Foundation include providing facilities, programs and educational materials that promote involvement in the artistic and educational fields, as well as providing, loans, scholarships, and grants to students in the community for the promulgation of artistic productions. The Will McLean Music Festival is held each year in the Spring. Friends gather for a few days of Will's music, along with new friends and new music. The festival is open to the public.
Folk Singer Legend
Considered by many to be the "Father of Florida Folk," Will McLean spent most of his life traveling the state of Florida, and writing over 3,700 songs and stories. He became known as the "Black Hat Troubadour" because of the black hat he wore everywhere. Three of his most important songs were Hold Back the Waters, Wild Hog, and Ballad of the Green Turtle.