Kathryn Belle Long was and will always be a daughter of the red clay hills of Tallahassee. Her love song “Tallahassee” written for her hometown is like no other. Its timeless folk melody and lyrics pay homage to the beauty, majesty, and mystery that has made Tallahassee such a magical place for families, artists, and adventurers for generations. Kathryn’s love for her city comes from deep roots and a loving bond to things that were very precious to her about her city.
The roots of Kathryn’s love for Tallahassee run deep because of the generations that came before her and left their mark on this beautiful city. Her grandfather and grandmother, Buddy and Tootsie Brandt, were central figures in the history of Tallahassee and the community. To this day, the Brandt Hills community is named for them and the streets that crisscross that community bear their names. Buddy Brandt was a Tallahassee businessman, and you can still read about Tallahassee’s first speak-easy, owned and operated by Buddy, “The High Hat” on the trails connected to Cascades Park. Buddy later created Buddy’s Sporting Goods and Hardware in downtown Tallahassee, and it was a gathering place for athletes, coaches, and businesspeople. One story that tells what a prominent establishment Buddy’s was relates to how he was instrumental in bringing football back to Tallahassee after World War II. It seems that even back in the 40s, football equipment was expensive, but Buddy wouldn’t let that stop FSU from restarting the program. He told the businessmen and bankers assembled, “Tell me what we need and I’ll get it! Pay me when you can. No interest.” And thus, FSU restarted their now famous Seminole Football Program, and Buddy became known as a businessman that Tallahassee could count on when it was in need. Buddy and Tootsie also were instrumental in the formation and leadership of Tallahassee churches, most notably Immanuel Baptist Church where they were active participants in sharing the blessings of their lives with their community. Buddy was known far and wide for being a Gideon, working with the youth of Immanuel through programs like RAs, and for his love for Tootsie. Kathryn drew inspiration for several of her songs, including Lonesome Train Waltz about the sudden passing of Tootsie, from her love and relationship with her grandfather.
Kathryn’s mother, Mary Kathryn Brandt Long, was also a grounding force when it came to her love for Tallahassee. Mary Kathryn graduated from Leon High School in 1958 and images of her as the Head Majorette for the Leon High School Marching Red Coat Band can still be seen online and at Leon to this day. She was a member of the FSU Marching Chiefs and was a staple in her early years at Buddy’s. She later became a teacher and spent many years at Richards High School teaching business and typing and finished her teaching career at Lively Technical College and Tallahassee Community College. Kathryn’s father Billy Long coached all over Tallahassee, including with Gene Cox at Leon, as a graduate assistant at Florida State and then on to coaching and teaching at Rickards, and later at North Florida Christian and finished his teaching career as a language arts teacher at Fairview Middle School. Kathryn’s influences in writing and music can be traced to her parents’ influence in language and history on Tallahassee, and her strong abiding love for Home and Family!
Kathryn spent her student years at North Florida Christian School, and left Tallahassee to pursue education in drama and acting at The American Music and Dance Academy in New York City and received her bachelor’s in philosophy while in New York. After college, she went to where MOST Floridians would consider the best place at that time to become an entertainer and practice that craft, Walt Disney World! As a performer at Disney World for 10 years, Kathryn played many character roles including Pluto, Meg from Hercules, Queen Grimhilde or The Queen from Snow White, and the role she would become most known for, The White Witch from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Kathryn became the face of the Narnia Experience at what was then MGM Studios and was cast to represent Disney in places all over the country, including the Philadelphia Christmas Parade. But given all the fanfare and spotlights, she longed to be back home in her beloved Tallahassee and returned “Home” to begin her career as a musician and a teacher.
When Kathryn returned to Tallahassee, her focus shifted from mass entertainment to musical entertainment. With guidance from her brother Scott, Kathryn soon started working to unlock her talent for music and songwriting and began to explore those creative spaces in her life. While working on her musical gifts Kathryn’s love for bringing joy to others took her down the same educational path as her parents, and she began her teaching career with youngsters in a Tallahassee Montessori school. While balancing the beginnings of both her new careers and working with little children, she became inspired by what she saw from them and penned one of her first and most beloved songs, “All Come In” about loving one another, including everyone, and planting seeds that could grow everywhere of kindness and sharing.
As her teaching career began to take off, so too did her music career and influence on Tallahassee folk music. She played venues like the Tom Brown Park July 4th celebration in 2010 and from there events like Springtime Tallahassee and with each passing year her recognition as a Tallahassee songbird continued to grow. Not long after, Kathryn became a full-time dance, theater, and musical theater instructor in Leon County Schools at Swift Creek Middle School, inspiring younger generations of Tallahasseeans to pursue a love for dance, music, and the arts.
Music was truly her passion and bringing joy to others led her to form two of Tallahassee’s most beloved and iconic folk bands, Belle the Band and The Adventures of Annabelle Lyn. The first band, aptly named Belle and The Band, began performing together in 2011 with Mickey Abraham, Kevin Robertson, and Mike Snelling. They were headliners for local events like the Tallahassee Museum Swamp Stomp Music Festival as well as larger events across Florida like the Spirit of Suwannee and the Florida Folk Festival. The group would go on to record two albums, Fallen Angel and Till We Know Better, both recorded and produced at Log Cabin Studios in Tallahassee. A milestone moment for Kathryn came in 2016 when she won an Emmy for Songwriting for the WFSU television show Local Routes. The theme song was and continues to be hugely popular around the Tallahassee area and the full story can be viewed here from WFSU Executive Producer Suzanne Smith.
Following the success of their Emmy, Belle and the Band’s “Tallahassee” became the next song in the spotlight on Florida folk music. Like the Local Routes theme, “Tallahassee” boasted vivid visuals of Tallahassee that listeners could see through Kathryn’s artistry with lyrics and her unbridled passion for her hometown. The song eventually won acclaim at the 2018 Will McLean Festival Best New Florida Song Contest. “Tallahassee” is Kathryn’s love song for her city, wound up in her love for her mother and her family and their history in the red clay hills they’ve called home for generations.
Listen to Belle and The Band playing the song Tallahassee.
Listen to the 2023 Spirit of Suwannee, Suwannee Spring Reunion performance with Mickey Abraham and Elizabeth Fravel featuring “Tallahassee” and other Belle and The Band and The Adventure of Annabelle Lyn favorites.
Though Kathryn was tragically taken from us in May of 2023, her memory and legacy as a songwriter and daughter of Tallahassee will live on in many ways. She lives on through the music of The Adventures of Annabelle Lyn, Belle and The Band. She lives on by those friends and family like you that cherish her music, love, and light. And she will live on through her final opus, which is still in production with Log Cabin Studios, Voices – A Folk Opera. Her legacy as an educator and a positive light for students in Tallahassee and Leon County also lives on through the Leon County Schools Foundation – Kathryn Belle Long Memorial Scholarship Fund. Donations to the scholarship fund that will annually benefit graduating Leon County students that plan to pursue a career in performing arts, and the performing arts programs that inspired them, may be made at their website or by mail where checks will also be accepted at: Kathryn Belle Long Memorial Scholarship Foundation for Leon County Schools 2757 W. Pensacola Street Tallahassee, FL 32304.
This blog was written by Bill Long. He is the brother of Kathryn Belle Long. He is a Husband, Father of three amazing sons, Educator, Coach, Event Manager, and Videographer. Bill and his wife Christina, teach at Carrollton High School in Carrollton, Georgia, and reside with their family in Helfin, Alabama.