Florida Folklife Program
Folk Heritage Awards Recipient: Gamble Rogers
Gamble RogersCourtesy of Florida State Archives/Florida Folklife Program Collection. Photo by David A. Taylor.
Gamble Rogers (1937 - 1991) - 1993 Florida Folk Heritage Award
Spanning a 30-year career and thousands of concert engagements throughout the U.S. as a headline performer, Gamble Rogers was a prolific “Florida troubadour” and ambassador of Florida singer-songwriters. He perpetuated and popularized the traditions of singer-songwriter music, storytelling, writing, and philosophical humor. Widely recognized as a guitar virtuoso, he also played a pivotal role in the re-emergence of the art form of storytelling and inspired many other storytellers. His shows usually chronicled stories and songs about the colorful characters that populated his mythical Florida county, Oklawaha. He served as a mentor and had a profound influence on numerous young artists. He gained national prominence through 30 years of appearances at folk clubs and festivals around the country.
A second generation Floridian, Rogers was born and raised in Winter Park and made St. Augustine his home. He began playing ukulele at 10 or 11, but took up the guitar when he became fascinated with the music of Merle Travis. After he completed college, Rogers played regularly with the Gainesville group, The Salty Dogs. He made his first appearance at the Florida Folk Festival in 1959. According to one account, on a whim while visiting a friend in New York City, Rogers auditioned for a spot as guitarist with a popular new group, the Serendipity Singers. To his delight, he landed the job. In the next two years, he distinguished himself as the group’s spokesman and storyteller. In this role, he received national exposure on such television programs as the Ed Sullivan Show, Tonight Show, and Hootenanny. He went on to a successful solo career with credits that included a movie role, a performance at Carnegie Hall, a regular spot on National Public Radio, and several commercial recordings (Gamble Rogers Live, Sorry is as Sorry Does, and The Lord Gives Me Strength and the Devil Gives Me Style). He also wrote plays for radio, screen, and stage. Rogers became a near-legendary figure at the Florida Folk Festival, generally closing out the program on Sunday nights.
Rogers lost his life trying to save a drowning swimmer, and was posthumously given a Kiwanis Award for Bravery and a Carnegie Award for heroism. The Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach is named in his honor, as is the Gamble Rogers Middle School in St. Augustine.