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Secretary of State Announces Recipients of the 2009 Florida Folk Heritage Awards

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Florida Department of State
Kurt S. Browning
Secretary of State

For Immediate Release
March 18, 2009

Contact:
Susanne Hunt
245.6373
shunt@dos.state.fl.us

Secretary of State Announces Recipients of the 2009 Florida Folk Heritage Awards

Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning today announced that he will present the 2009 Florida Folk Heritage Awards at the Florida Heritage Month awards ceremony March 25 in Tallahassee. The 2009 Florida Folk Heritage Award recipients are Pete Clemons (Okeechobee), Langston Longley (Miami), Romeo Ragbir (Plantation), George Saroukos (Tarpon Springs), and Ann Yao (Orlando).  

"The work of these talented individuals illustrates the extraordinary depth and diversity of Florida’s traditional cultural heritage. They are recognized for their remarkable artistic achievements, as well as their role as teachers and preservers of Florida’s folk cultural resources," said Secretary Browning.

The Florida Department of State annually presents Florida Folk Heritage Awards to citizens whose lifelong devotion to folklife has enriched the state’s cultural legacy. Like the National Heritage Awards, Florida Folk Heritage Awards honor Florida’s most significant and influential tradition bearers for excellence, significance, and authenticity.

Pete Clemons was tremendously successful in his 25-year rodeo career. He won the Best All Around Cowboy title at the Silver Spurs Rodeo in Kissimmee nine times. This required excelling in five events: saddle bronc, bareback bronc, calf roping, steer wrestling, and bull riding.  He competed throughout the U.S. and as well as in Canada and Cuba. He traveled twice to South America to serve as an ambassador of U.S. rodeo.  The high regard for Clemons by his peers is reflected by his selection as "Big Boss" of the National Day of the American Cowboy celebration in Okeechobee in 2007 and 2008.

Langston Longley is the leader of the Bahamas Junkanoo Revue, which performs the colorful Bahamian masquerade tradition. Longley had been involved in Junkanoo in the Bahamas and after settling permanently in Florida, he endeavored to strengthen the state’s Junkanoo tradition by co-founding the group.  Longley and the Bahamas Junkanoo Revue educate the public about the array of arts represented by the tradition through workshops and performances at schools, museums, hotels, festivals, and parades.  In addition, he has created innovations in Junkanoo costume decoration and construction that not only have been influential in Florida, but have also been adopted by some artists in the Bahamas. 

George Saroukos is the only remaining builder of traditional Greek sponge diving boats in the Western Hemisphere.  During the first half of the 20th century, many sponge boats were built by Greek Americans from Tarpon Springs to Apalachicola. Saroukos is the third generation of his family to master Greek sponge boat building.  His father and grandfather were celebrated boat builders from the island of Kalymnos, the Dodecanese island from which most of the Greek American residents of Tarpon Springs trace their roots.  Saroukos continued the tradition of building fine boats without using any printed plans and making some of his own tools.

At Indo-Caribbean Hindu weddings and other festive events, the sharp staccato sounds of the tassa drums provide an essential musical component. Romeo Ragbir heads the leading tassa drum ensemble in south Florida.  While growing up in Trinidad, he learned from his father how to make and play the drums.  Since coming to Florida, he has passed these skills on to many young people in the community and has made this tradition known outside the community through performances at festivals and other events.

Ann Yao plays the zheng, one the most ancient musical instruments in China. Born into a family of musicians in Shanghai, she grew up immersed in Chinese folk and classical music. Since moving to the U.S. in 1985, Yao has been a zheng soloist at Disneyworld’s Epcot Center. Since  1987 she has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other venues with the innovative ensemble Music From China, which promotes modern Chinese musical culture while preserving ancient Chinese music. Yao also participated in a documentary project about Tang (618-907 A.D.) music, and has played at many other venues. 

The Florida Folklife Program was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts’ Folk and Traditional Arts Program. For further information about the Folk Heritage Awards, contact Tina Bucuvalas, Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, 500 S. Bronough St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250, or call 850.245.6333 or 1-800-847-PAST.


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