A Taste of Jacksonville’s Music History

Formed in 1929, the Jacksonville Historical Society has spent nearly a century working to strengthen citizenship by engaging and educating Jacksonville’s people about their history. Some points of history were so impactful on the landscape of the city, such as the Great Fire of 1901, that information is plentiful, while there are other aspects of our city’s history that require much research. The music history of Jacksonville is one such part of our history that is so diverse, complicated, and unique that even after years of research we are barely scratching the surface.
A brief look at Jacksonville’s jazz community reaches back more than 150 years. During the decades following the end of the Civil War, the Black community within Jacksonville began the cultivation of a new lifestyle and culture. Blues and jazz filled the streets of the LaVilla neighborhood, with figures such as James Weldon Johnson and Ma Rainey contributing to the sound. Individuals such as these spurred on the growth and popularity of jazz and blues music within the city. Annual festivals like the Jacksonville Jazz Festival keep the music alive and venues such as The Ritz Theatre provide a place for musicians to play their music loud and proud.
Closer to the windy shores of the beaches, we encounter another part of Jacksonville’s musical past. The beaches area of Jacksonville has been a place where a variety of music forms have prospered. As a place to which tourists flocked, Jacksonville Beach provided the perfect location for music venues to spring up and flourish. What began as dance halls and beach performances would quickly turn into streets lined with lively music clubs. Venues such as the Casa Marina Hotel, The Crystal Palace, Freebird Live, and Einstein a Go-Go would host performances by small up-and-coming local groups, like Beggar Weeds, as well as famous bands such as Nirvana and the Red-Hot Chili Peppers.

Like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, The Rossington Collins Band consisted of artists who called Jacksonville home. (From the collections of the Jacksonville Historical Society.)

Did you know that Jacksonville’s schools have played a major role in the city’s music history? Many big-name artists from Jacksonville attended Duval County public schools. It’s no surprise since schools like Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and Duncan U. Fletcher High School have standout music programs. Jacksonville’s local colleges are also important to the musical landscape of the city. Florida State College at Jacksonville, Jacksonville University, and the University of North Florida are great schools to attend, especially if one has an interest in music. The award-winning music programs at these schools are led by experts in the field who strive to inspire their students’ musical potential. So, who are some of these big-name artists who attended school in Jacksonville?  Alternative bands Limp Bizkit and Yellowcard both met and formed while they attended high school at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. The band Lynyrd Skynyrd was also formed at a local high school. The original members of the Southern Rock group all met while they attended Jacksonville’s Robert E. Lee High School in the 1960s, and their experience there even helped inspire the name of their group.

Jacksonville’s musical heritage is one that is still growing, with local musicians creating new material every day. The music history of this city is so special and important that it deserves not only the opportunity to be remembered by future generations, but to be proudly displayed for everyone to see. If you would like to dive deeper into Jacksonville’s musical past and learn more about what work is being done to exhibit the music history of the city on a larger scale, visit “So You Think You Know Jax Music?” an exhibit curated by the Jacksonville Historical Society and displayed at The Beaches Museum through August 6, 2023.
Since 1949, The Jacksonville Symphony has traversed the venues of Jacksonville, adding a classical touch to the sounds of the city. (From the collections of the Jacksonville Historical Society.)

Emily Cottrell, Interim Archivist
Rachael Jenkins, Archives Intern