2017 Florida Folk Heritage Award
Willie Green was born in the mid-1930s to a family of sharecroppers and migrant laborers in Pine Level, Alabama, outside of Montgomery. At a young age, he quit school to help support his family. He traveled from farm to farm throughout the southeast and as far as Maine, harvesting peanuts, fruits and vegetables. As a teenager, he would sneak out at night to hear blues at the Montgomery juke joints, prompting him to eventually learn to play the harmonica and guitar. In the 1960s, he settled in South Florida, worked a series of manual labor jobs and performed on the side at Florida clubs like the Blue Chip, the Down Beat and the Diamond Club. Green moved to Ocala in the 1980s, where he fell on hard times, and began playing for tips at The Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek. It was there that Green was discovered, and booked to open for Grammy-winning blues musician John Hammond.
Since that time, Green has opened for well-known blues musicians including Robert Cray and Eric Clapton, shared the stage with the late “Honeyboy” Edwards and collaborated with Southern rock group J.J. Grey and Mofro. Green has released three albums including Cross Creek Blues featuring J.J. Grey, and has performed for thousands at concerts and music festivals including the Florida Folk Festival, Magnolia Fest, Springing the Blues and the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. He continues to play at The Yearling Restaurant, and has advanced the appreciation of the blues as an Artist in Residence at local schools. In 2010, he received Stetson Kennedy’s Fellow Man and Mother Earth Award.