23 November 2008

Josh White: Free And Equal Blues

Los Angeles Daily News, circa 1947. UCLA LA Times Photo Archive

"Josh White’s life is the history of black American music finding a white audience, of folk music and the American left, and of a man who remade himself time and time again, fighting discrimination, stereotypes, and his own personal demons to become one of the world’s most successful black entertainers, then maintaining himself in that position through four decades. Josh was hailed at various times as king of the blues singers, king of the folksingers, king of the political singers, pioneering black sex symbol, "Presidential Minstrel" to the Roosevelt White House, and king of Cafe Society.

Josh’s life intersected some of the most exciting periods in American culture. In the 1920s, he was leading legendary blind blues singers around the South, and became the youngest soloist in the "race records" market. In the 1930s, he was a blues star, more popular than Robert Johnson and influencing a generation of Southern players. In the 1940s, he discovered a white, New York audience, appearing alongside jazz figures like Billie Holiday, and becoming so popular in the folk world that Pete Seeger would look up to him as "Mr. Folk Music." His recording of "One Meat Ball" was a folk-pop smash, and he became one of the few black figures to star on Broadway and appear in Hollywood films, the only black guitarist to have his own national tour, and a daring sex symbol with adoring fans on both sides of the color line." Elijah Wald,author of : Josh White: Society Blues

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