Music From the “Sunshine State”

By Dave Austin, the “Music Professor”

Over the holidays, I made a swing through Florida, and while there, had the opportunity to visit with a couple my old band buddies. During the course of our gab sessions, we got onto the topic of Florida musicians. I was somewhat surprised to learn just how many famous names and recordings come from the “Sunshine State.” Then again, it’s only logical that Florida’s ethnic diversity has resulted in an equally wide variety of musical styles from Latin to rock to rap to heavy metal, depending on what part of the state you’re speaking of.

The Social and Music Scene Hotspot

Today, we think of Miami as the hot spot of the social and music scene, but we’ll have to go back to 1970 to find its beginnings. It was then that Criteria Studios was producing such acts as Fleetwood Mack (“Rumors”) and the Eagles (“Hotel California”). Also, we can’t overlook T.K. Records, a label headed by veteran music entrepreneur, Henry Stone. As many musicians would retreat to Florida during the winter, artists such as Bob Seger, Ted Nugent and Grand Funk Railroad recorded there. T.K. also produced K.C. and the Sunshine Band, soul singers Betty Wright, George McCrae while turning out a number of minor soul and disco hits. Notably, many of these tracks reflect a strong Caribbean influence.

Southern Rockers

In the 1970 and into the ‘80’s, Jacksonville experienced a hot music scene with Southern rockers Molly Hatchet, the Allman Brothers, 38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd recording there. Local boys, the Bellamy Brothers from nearby Darby, Florida, recorded their style of country music in Jacksonville. Guitarist Tom Petty grew up in Gainsville, as did most of the members of the three bands he recorded with. The state also produced several well-known Southern rappers such as Trick Daddy from Liberty City, a north Miami neighborhood. Among rappers also calling Florida home are Flo-Rida, T-Pain and Rick Ross.

Music-Rich Orlando

From another part of the state there came the Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, Matchbox Twenty, Alter Bridge and the 1980s girl group, Expose’ – all from the music-rich Orlando area.

A Dog Named “Boo?”

Other notable acts from the state include legendary country star Mel Tillis, his daughter Pam Tillis and Country Music Hall of Fame’s Bobby Braddock. Kent Lavoie, better known as Lobo, hit #1 in 1971 with “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo.” This Tallahassee native formed a band called Rumors along with Jim Stafford and Gram Parsons while attending the University of South Florida. The still-influential Parsons had a legendary role in the rock music scene of the 1960s, working with Mick Jagger, Linda Ronstadt, the Kingstron Trio and others. Jim Stafford was a prominent performer of the 1970s, with his own TV show and regular guest appearances on The Tonight Show, The Smothers Brothers and other programs.

Home to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Tampa is home to the Morrisound Studios, noted either famously or infamously, for death metal albums by Deicide, Morbid Angel and many others. Among other metal bands from the state are Limp Bizkit from Jacksonville and Savatage from Tarpon Springs. Savatage produced a number of albums during the 1980s until the death of co-founder and guitarist Criss Oliva in 1993. Singer Jon Oliva went on to create the highly Successful Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Florida has also experienced periods in which punk rock flourished, based predominately in Gainsville, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami and Tampa. Hardcore punk enjoys a large and loyal following in the “Sunshine State.”

The Hub for Latin Music

There’s no way one can ignore the fact that south Florida, particularly the Miami area, is the hub for Latin music in the United States. The influence of the Cuban culture is undeniable and the 1997 album, “The Buena Vista Social Club,” was recorded by a group of former stars of the Havana nightclub scene, became a huge hit, won a Grammy and has been designated as one of the greatest albums of all time. Since 1993, MTV Latin America, based in Miami, broadcasts to Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and much of Latin America.

The Sand, Surf, and Sunshine

I could go on naming such Florida performers as Gloria Estefan, Vanilla Ice, Pitbull and Marilyn Manson, but you’ve got the idea by now. There’s just something about the state that produces great musicians of all genres. Maybe it’s the sand, surf and sunshine, or perhaps some exotic element in the air. Whatever it is, it has made this state a long-time and continuing hotbed of music for both North and South America.


  • Dave Austin began his career at age 13 at a small, hometown radio station. He went on to graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Bachelor’s degree in broadcasting. Since that time, Dave has been a mobile and radio DJ, radio station Program Director, and a TV news reporter and anchorman. He has also done voiceover work for documentaries and commercials. In 1986 Dave’s longtime passion for music prompted him to start “Southern Celebrations DJs,” a multi-system mobile entertainment company serving clients in Tennessee, Northern Georgia and Northern Alabama. You can email him c/o

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