adventures in dysthymia

Friday, September 17, 2004

A voice of Florida folk music lost to cancer

(from the St Pete Times)

By BETSY BOLGER-PAULET, Times Staff Writer Published September 17, 2004

Ann Thomas, an icon among followers of a local folk style called Florida Music, died shortly after midnight Thursday (Sept. 16, 2004) at her home in Lake Wales.The 58-year-old professional storyteller and master librarian waged a two-year battle against lymphoma, working almost to the end.In 2002, Mrs. Thomas, along with her singer-songwriter husband and musical partner, Frank Thomas, received the Jillian Prescott Inaugural History Award under the category of Florida balladeers. Word of her passing spread fast. By 4 a.m., fans and friends were streaming into the Thomas' modest cracker home among the oaks and orange groves of rural Lake Wales."She had a big heart, and she always sang from her heart. With her husband, Ann Thomas will go down in the annals of Florida culture," Stetson Kennedy, author and civil rights activist, said of his longtime friend.Ron Litschauer, a singer-songwriter and music producer from West Palm Beach and a friend since the late 1980s, recorded the Thomas' last project, Just Another Day in the Life of a Florida Cracker. He called her "a poet, a teacher, a mentor to just about everybody in the Florida folk community. It is a huge loss."Mary Anne Dinella, a member of the Southwind musical group and Mrs. Thomas' friend since 1975, remembered her sense of humor."She had that kind of lovable irascibility. And very frank. If you didn't want to know the answer, then you didn't want to ask Ann," she said.Mrs. Thomas' voice was a fixture on WMNF-88.5 FM, where she introduced a weekly radio program with these words: "Welcome to Songs of Florida, with your hosts Frank and Ann Thomas."The Thomases recorded the radio show, which introduced many Florida songwriters to the world, for 11 years in their back yard in the Tiger Creek Forest east of Lake Wales as WMNF producers worked under the shelter of the live oak hammock.In January 2002, Mrs. Thomas gave her last stage performance with her husband at the Pinellas Folk Festival.Her career was her work as the children's librarian at the Lake Wales Public Library.Born in Coral Gables, Mrs. Thomas grew up in Lakeland and spent most of her life in Florida.Ann and Frank Thomas met in 1978 at Carl Allen's Catfish Restaurant in Lake Wales. They married and adopted a son.She co-hosted the Gazebo Stage annually at the Florida Folk Festival, a venue that showcases Florida songwriters."We like to slip up on a folk's blind side and educate them a little - about Florida," she once said. "It's about dedication, about promoting Florida music and trying to preserve parts of the state that haven't already been wiped out by theme parks, strip centers, outlet stores."Mrs. Thomas prepared her own memorial service, scheduled at 2 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Marion Nelson Funeral Home, 454 South Buckmoore Road, Lake Wales. Donations may be made to the Lake Wales Public Library Association Children's Services, 290 Cypress Garden Lane, Lake Wales.

I never really got to know Ann -- she was already retreating from the public eye by the time I met Frank a couple years ago. ~SB

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