A gifted and charismatic entertainer, Josh White (1914-1969) was one of the best-known folk-blues artists of his day. In the early 1960s, one survey ranked him as America's third most popular male folksinger, surpassed only by Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. He appeared on national television, performed at numerous college concerts and club dates, and released several dozen albums-all featuring his distinctive guitar style, supple voice, and unique showmanship.
In this compelling biography, Elijah Wald traces White's journey from the "colored" side of Greenville, South Carolina, to the heights of Manhattan café society. He explores the complexities of White's music, his struggles with discrimination and stereotypes, his political involvements, and his sometimes raucous personal life.
White was always drawn to music and by the age of ten was leading blind blues and gospel singers around the South. By the 1930s he had become a blues recording star himself, and in the 1940s he was discovered by a white audience and regularly appeared in New York cabarets alongside such artists as Billie Holiday. He also became an outspoken proponent of civil rights and frequently appeared at rallies and benefits, singing songs against segregation. He was one of the few black figures to star on Broadway and appear in Hollywood films, the only black solo peformer to have his own national tour, and a daring sex symbol with adoring fans on both sides of the color line.
In the 1950s, White won acclaim in Europe, then saw his achievements collapse in the polarized political ferment of the McCarthy era. Attempting to strike a balance that would keep his career afloat, he instead succeeded in alienating both political camps. Although still a star in England, he became the forgotten man at home until his resurrection in the folk revival.