Text Box: blues autographs


Price: $550.00



Autographed and inscribed sepia 8” x 10” 1940’s photograph of the legendary blues, gospel and folk singer songwriter to a British fan.

White (1914-1969) was the next generation of Leadbelly and a contemporary of Woody Guthrie.  A close friend and informal advisor to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, White was preaching against Jim Crow and for Black rights two decades before Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.  Born to a preacher and his wife in South Carolina, White’s father was beaten up after he confronted a bill collector at his front door.  He was subsequently taken to a mental institution where he died nine years later.  The young boy who had been singing in his father’s church choir became the eye’s for a blind blues guitarist named Blind Man Arnold (John Henry “Big Man” Arnold.  Essentially he was his eyes when he travelled and would sing and dance while he performed on the guitar.  Eventually Blind Man Arnold lent White to other blind musicians, Blind Blake (Arthur Phelps) Willie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Joe (Joel) Taggert.  While “in their care” White learned to play the guitar and was eventually added to the acts as second guitarist.  He learned various techniques from these musicians which proved to be invaluable during his career. At the latter point of this time in his life, his Piedmont style guitar skills were considered greater than the blind singers he worked for.  When Taggert took White to Chicago in 1927, he was seen by a man named Mayo Williams of Paramount Records who hired White as a gig guitarist to back up their main artists.  He continued to perform with Taggart and Blake until he had built up enough cash reserves and by 1932 returned home to his mother in South Carolina.

ARC Records heard some of the records made by White and sent two men looking for him.  Finding him in school, living in his mother’s home in South Carolina.  They made some records on their budget label with White and they were so impressed, they convinced his mother to sign a contract for him to go to New York City and record gospel music, but not “the devil’s music”.  Now billed as Joshua White, The Singing Christian he recorded numerous gospel and spiritual records.  The records were a success and they convinced him to sign a new contract to record blues records, but based upon the song, they were issued as Josh White, or Pinewood Tom for the ones his mother might not approve of.  He married the singer Carol Carr in 1934.  At this point, White was a big up and comer in the Blues world.  He even felt comfortable enough to release two civil rights songs, “Silicosis Blues” and “No More Ball and Chain”.

Tragedy struck in 1936, he was involved in a bar fight in Harlem and put his hand through a plate glass window, after infection ensued, he lost the feeling in his right hand.  He worked odd jobs as a longshore man, a building super and an elevator operator during this period.  In early 1939 he was playing a game of cards and noticed he had feeling in his hand.  After exercising his hand, he was able to play again and formed the band, Josh White and his Carolinians.  They played together through 1940 and made numerous records in several genres, blues, folk and civil rights songs.  In 1940, his recording with the band, “One Meatball” sold a million copies as a single.  He also made his theater debut with WPA Negro Theater as Blind Lemon Jefferson in the musical, “John Henry” starring Paul Robeson.  The did not have legs and closed after a week.  John Hammond, a CBS record producer heard him in the show and signed him to a Columbia contract.  His hard fought record with the Carolinians “Chain Gang” in 1940 was his first complete album which spoke to social justice and equality.  Around the same time, Hammond introduced White to the Village bar Café Society, an integrated folk club where both white and black performers performed.  White who by that point was well known performed some of his social justice works in the club which made some of his fellow performers nervous.   From 1940-1941, White appeared on Alan Lomax’s radio program, “Back Where I Came From” which also featured other folk and blues artists like Leadbelly, Peter Seeger, Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie.  He also performed regularly on another Lomax show, “Columbia School of the Air”.  Alan Lomax, who was an ethnomusicologist was the “Assistant in Charge” of the Library of Congress folk collection and brought White to Washington D.C. in 1940 to perform at the LOC in an all-Black folks music concert which was part of a 4 day Festival sponsored by Eleanor Roosevelt.  He was invited back to Washington a month later to sing at Constitution Hall for one of the FDR inaugural balls.  (This was the year after the Daughters of the American Revolution would not let Marian Anderson sing in their hall.)  It was a star studded event hosted by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., also Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Rooney and Nelson Eddy on the program.  Eleanor Roosevelt a lover of folk music took notice of White and when Lomax presented an evening of folk music in February, 1941 invited White to perform with the Golden Gate Quartet among the acts.  In September of the same year, White released a new album, “An Album of Jim Crow Blues” which the Roosevelts obtained.  FDR found the song, “Uncle Sam Says (we’ve got to end Jim Crow”) and invited White to the White House to perform the six songs from the album to a large audience of political power brokers in Washington.  Roosevelt asked White if he was referring to himself as Uncle Sam in the song and he replied in the affirmative, Roosevelt invited him to join him for a private conversation over coffee and brandy.  That conversation led to a close relationship between the Roosevelts and the Whites including Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  When Joshua Jr. was born, the Roosevelts became his Godparents. White would travel to England with Eleanor Roosevelt on a Goodwill tour, as well as Mexico on behalf of the State Department and also for USO shows on the radio due to the relationship. 

While the Roosevelts loved folk music, the Trumans were not fans and his fortunes fell after the death of FDR. Hoover built an FBI dossier on White, he was accused initially of turning on his friends during the red scare and then was embroiled in it himself as there was an assumption that all Blacks involved in civil rights were Communists.  He became persona non grata in the music business until 1955 when Elektra records issued the “Josh White 25th Anniversary Album” which put him back on the map and gigs began opening up to him.  The tour with the release of the record and those that followed were not kind to his health, a heavy smoker he developed emphysema and by 1961 had the first of three heart attacks.  This same year, Granada Television in Britain created “The Josh White Show”.  John F. Kennedy like Roosevelt was a fan and invited White to perform on CBS in a Civil Rights special and then have dinner at the White House.  That led to an invitation to perform at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous March on Washington.  He also accepted a gig to perform on the ABC television show “Hootenanny” for a year.  He was also a performer at Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration in 1965.  At the same time he began performing with the likes of Odetta and Judy Collins.  Two other heart attacks followed.  In 1969 it was decided that he needed a heart valve transplant and he unfortunately died during the procedure before his 55th birthday.

White left a massive catalog of albums and songs, which are easily accessible on YouTube.  When folk music and blues became less popular in the 1980’s through the early 2000’s, his name became a distant memory, but with the folk music revival today, he is being rediscovered.  He was truly a story-teller in many of his songs and if you listen carefully to many of his social protest and civil rights songs, you can hear the same sentiment almost word for word echoed by the Black community.  A man much ahead of his time.  White was honored with a stamp in 1998 in the “Legends of American Music” folk music category.

A truly rare autographed photograph, especially with his full name. A few minor creases, but superb in person!





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