Tommy E. Walton
1994 Florida Folk Heritage Award
Tommy Walton (1930-1997) was born in Greenwood, South Carolina. As a young boy, he moved to St. Petersburg with his family. His father and grandfather supported their families by selling fruits and vegetables in the streets. Walton’s grandfather introduced him to blues and gospel music, and his father taught him the rhyming couplets used in street crying.
Walton extended his father’s produce business to include hot dogs, candy, and soft drinks. The expansion provided him with the opportunity to sell his wares at the local St. Louis Cardinals spring training games. Soon he was entertaining audiences throughout the country as a concessions hawker at professional baseball games.
Many of Walton’s cries were complex rhymes. He blended blues and gospel lyrics in the form and rhyme structure of old street cries to create calls that resembled modern rapping. Walton described a proficient crier as one who can generate spontaneous cries.
As a master artist for the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program in 1988-89, Walton guided his apprentice James Watson to develop his repertoire and style. A veteran of the Florida Folklife Festival, Walton also performed at the Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C., and appeared on The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and the ABC Nightly News. Walton was considered one of the nation’s leading criers at professional sporting events.