by IVY VELAZQUEZ
A lover of soul music from a relatively young age, Associate Professor of Journalism John Capouya is a fan of all the classics. And as he grew up listening to them, he thought he knew almost all there was to know about the genre, especially about where all the biggest names came from, from Timmy Thomas to Ben E. King. But upon moving to Tampa eight years ago, he was surprised to find what seemed to be an undiscovered capital of soul: Florida.
When one thinks of Florida, Disney World, beaches, hurricanes and alligators come to mind. What doesn’t cross the mind is that it is one of the birthplaces of soul music. One of the artists considered to be a founder of soul music, Ray Charles, is a “Florida product,” as Capouya put it.
This is what Capouya explores in his book, Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band. This is his third published book, but his first covering this particular topic. It focuses on exploring the culture of Florida Soul music and the legacies behind it.
The catalyst for the book, Capouya said, was a widely known dance craze called “The Twist” and the no. 1 hit list song of the same name that helped bring it to fame.
“On the 50th anniversary of that song becoming a number one hit, I wrote a piece for the Tampa Bay Times investigating the urban legend that ‘The Twist’ came from Tampa,” Capouya said. “And I concluded that it probably did.”
Not long after writing this piece, an editor from the the University Press of Florida who had read it asked him if he had ever thought of writing a book on the topic of the history of soul music in Florida. And after some further discussion, Capouya wrote a proposal to them and they accepted it.
“The whole thing was completely accidental,” Capouya said. “I was trying to call about something else and this woman got on the phone.”
Once the project was started, it took Capouya a total of about six years to complete it. It involved much research and one-on-one interviews with some of the genre artists who are still alive today, such as blues hall of famer, Latimore, as well as with those who knew them. “It’s almost entirely based on first-hand reporting. It involved a lot people- finding on the internet,” Capouya said.
Capouya did not do this entirely on his own. He spoke of a great gratitude towards the University of Tampa for grants given to him, as well as a sabbatical, that he feels he could not have finished the book without. His wife, Suzanne Williamson, is an art photographer who took many of the photos featured within the book. He also had some help from former UT journalism student, Katherine Lavacca ‘16, and videographer Jemaine Browne, who works for media services at UT.
Lavacca came to be involved in the project through the UT work study program, where she applied to be his assistant. As a native Floridian, she was interested to learn a bit more history about her home state. Her job largely consisted of transcribing interviews and making footnotes, as well as some researching.
“As a j-school student starting my journalism career, being able to work with someone who has as much experience as Capouya was an amazing opportunity,” Lavacca said. “He taught me a lot about the dedication you need to have when starting a project and to be persistent.”
As Capouya’s videographer, Browne’s role involved filming when Capouya went to do interviews. He feels that a documentary would be perfect to pair with Florida Soul. Unfortunately, because he came a little late into the process, he was unable to get much footage but he is still hopeful for a documentary, as is Capouya, even if it’s just a short 20-minute movie.
“I already knew that he published a few books before Florida Soul, but this time I felt that a documentary was needed for this book. I think he is doing a great thing by writing this book,” Browne said.
While Capouya had no specific goal when going into this project, other than to write the book, he does hope to add to the scholarship on Florida soul and to help “put Florida on the map” as a capital of soul music. He hopes to reach the audiences of music buffs and lovers of the genre who are interested in learning about its history.
After so many years of hard work, Capouya is glad to finally be able to see the result of it all.
“It’s really satisfying to hold the physical book and know that all those years of reporting and writing came to something, that there is a tangible result,” Capouya said. “Also, I am beginning to get feedback, in reviews in a couple national magazines, and from music writers I respect, and the feedback has been very positive, so that’s gratifying as well.’’
These reviews, from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, have called Capouya’s book “entertaining and colorful” as well as saying that Florida Soul is “a significant entry to the scholarship on soul music.”
Capouya also had some advice to offer for other aspiring writers.
“Persevere and if you’re passionate about something, and you put in the work, you can nd an outlet,” Capouya said. “And you never know where it’ll lead.”
Florida Soul will be released on Tuesday, Sept. 12 and can be purchased on Amazon.
Ivy Velazquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org