Jim Szlapski, Director

James Gamble Rogers IV (January 31, 1937 – October 10, 1991) was a folk artist musician and storyteller known for the recurring theme in his songs and stories about characters and places in a fictional Florida county. He died a heroic death and was honored by his native state. He was a 1998 inductee into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

Born in Winter Park, Florida, Rogers was the namesake of two prominent architects. As a young man, he chose the path of a musician. While on his way to interview for a job at an architecture firm, he attended a Serendipity Singers audition in New York. Rogers borrowed a guitar, tried out, and was admitted to the group.

Gamble Rogers began performing around Florida in the 1960s, often performing with other noted Florida singer-songwriters Paul Champion, Jim Bellew, and Will McLean. By the 1970s, he was a regular fixture at the Florida Folk Festival, often as the headliner. He appeared in James Szalapski’s 1976 country music documentary film Heartworn Highways, performing an onstage comic monologue followed by “Black Label Blues.” By the 1980s, he was often featured on public television and public radio. As a self-described “modern troubadour,” Rogers influenced musicians such as Jimmy Buffett and David Bromberg, with the former dedicating his album Fruitcakes to him. In their tribute to him, “Song for Gamble,” Steve Gillette and his wife Cindy Mangsen describe him: “He had the gift of innocence, and a fondness for the key of ‘E’.”

While Rogers was camping at Flagler Beach, a frightened young girl ran to him, begging him to help her father, who was in trouble in rough surf. Compromised by spinal arthritis that had been worsening since childhood, Rogers nevertheless grabbed an air mattress and headed into the ocean in a rescue attempt. Both men died in the surf. In honor of his heroism, the Florida Legislature renamed the state park Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach. In St. Augustine, Florida, there is a middle school named Gamble Rogers Middle School after him.

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