This is an mp3 blog attempting to document the gross amount of music I listen to. About once a day, I'll post something I like. If you're a copyright holder on anything I host, get in touch, and we'll settle things in a steel cage instead of a courtroom.

Monday, September 03, 2007

...and they call him Josh WHITE?

Sorry for the lack of regular updates, faithful readers and pitcher-lookers. It's been Andrea's birthday weekend, and I have been busy with much more important things. One of the things we did was get to see three sets by the awesome Slick Andrews, who you should see if you're ever in the Louisville area. That cat can SING. I'm gonna post about him soon, provided he lets me post songs from his rad CD.

In the meantime, today we'll look at Josh White, one of the best vocalists from the folk genre. Part of Peter Guarlnick's fascinating, massive biography of Elvis Presley was the amazement that many older folks felt upon finding out that their teenagers were buying race records and listening to colored radio stations, even in the Jim Crow-entrenched South, where suburban thinking of blacks as inferior wasn't so much malicious as intrinsic (I know this is gonna spawn a lot of hate mail - let me have it). That's not meant to understate the effects of racism and I'm sure there are a million and one counterexamples, but I think you would be hardpressed to say white kids from the suburbs hated blacks more than they were just indoctrinated by the Aunt Jemimas and thick-lipped caricatures they saw on TV and on billboards.

That said, why would these unthinking teenagers buy race records by the boatful while the establishment felt the need to try and filter the excitement and energy of race music through Pat fucking Boone? Because no matter what you believe, a singer who can sing and entertain and make you feel the pain of his soul is going to kick your soul in the nards and make you love it. There's a reason Michael Jackson brought color to MTV. Josh White is one such singer.

He sounds like a smoother Leadbelly, a poppier Missippi John Hurt. He may not be as soul-baring, but there's no denying that he can belt it out with the best of them. Besides, he stood up to Joseph McCarthy, and I have respect for anyone who does that (Jim Webb, anyone?). He stuck to his political guns - worker's rights, abolition of Jim Crow - in the face of the mighty HUAAC, who viewed him as a Communist agitator because he was a black agitator. Yanno, like MLK. I'm so glad our government doesn't act like that anymore...moving on...

Born in South Carolina in the beginning of the 20th century, White became the head of his household at the tender age of seven when a white bill collector and the police beat his reverend father nearly to death and condemned him to live out the rest of his life in a mental asylum. He eventually got work leading around blind blues singers, who would use him to get sympathy coins and to help them avoid trouble with the KKK. However, his talent for singing and playing soon became apparent, He was picked up by Paramount around when he was 15 and cut a few sides for them before disappearing again.

Columbia soon tracked him down, but had to promise his mother than her underage son would only perform religious material. In the wake of the success of Charley Patton, record companies were realizing that the black dollar spent just the same as the white dollar, and they were stumbling over each other to find the next colored star that would make them money amongst the black community. They may not have been superstars like Irving Berlin, but profit is profit. Soon as he was 18, he started making much more profitable blues recordings, and soon became something of a star, so much so that he became a friend with the Roosevelts, pretty impressive for a black man in 1940's American singing the devil's music.

He spent the 60's performing in clubs and theaters around the world, especially in Europe, where he found particularly enthusiastic audiences. In one of life's bigger mysteries, Europeans more greatly appreciate an archly American music form.

No More Blues:

In My Time of Dying:

Hold One:


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