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Charles Atkins

2002 Florida Folk Heritage Award


Created by African Americans in the South, the blues is a traditional musical form with African roots. Originally derived from field hollers and cries, the blues centers on the singer’s emotional responses to life. Although many songs focus on problems in the singer’s life, the blues can also celebrate life’s joys. Since entering the urban and commercial musical scenes, the blues has profoundly influenced much of American music. The classic form features a three-line pattern based on repeating one line twice and then rhyming a third line containing a complementary idea.

Blindness has not prevented Florida native Charles Atkins from becoming one of the best blues musicians in the country. He remembers, “I didn’t learn it in any one way. I started performing before I knew the difference between north and south, east and west. I was singing on the radio when I was a little boy, about 4 or 5 — spirituals on Sunday. When I was a child I used to listen at night to blues on the radio.... I learned some of it from listening to people play at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine.” Atkins performs frequently, has recorded extensively, and is an exceptional teacher. As he explains, “I try to share what I know with people in the community on a regular basis. It’s a way for me to reach out to others. . . . Blues can be an ambassador between cultures and between individuals.” Each semester Atkins teaches a Blues Lab at Florida State University’s Center for Music of the Americas. He also participated as a master artist in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program from 1995-1996.