Florida Folklife Program

Folk Heritage Awards Recipient: Major Hollis


Major Hollis, Gainsville. .
Major Hollis, Gainsville.

Major Hollis (1908 - 1996) - 1994 Florida Folk Heritage Award

Major Hollis (Gainesville) was an advocate of African American folk culture. Born on April 26, 1908 in Pelham, Georgia, he was raised by his grandmother and extended family. His parents, victims of the influenza epidemic, died when he was a young boy. Like his father, Hollis worked professionally as a cook. He prepared meals for boarding houses, private schools, restaurants, hotels, fraternity houses, and military camps throughout the south. In 1960, he moved to Gainesville where he later became a senior deacon for the Church of God by Faith.

In the 1920s, Hollis began singing the blues while working in Tennessee. His love of music and his involvement in the Baptist church proved to be a significant combination. In 1923, he began to sing gospel publicly and to promote African-American gospel quartets. He was usually billed as an opening act and often sang before a headline performance he had arranged. Over the years, he devoted considerable energy to documenting African American gospel music which culminated in the Hollis Collection spanning the period from the 1930s to the 1960s.  The collection includes recordings, sheet music, numerous photographs, and ephemera that document the pioneers of gospel music.

Hollis was an excellent oral history resource, and several items from his collections appear in Sherry and Herbert DuPree’s book, African-American Good News (Gospel) Music. He retired from work as a cook and gospel music promoter in 1976.