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Josh White: Society Blues Hardcover – November 13, 2000

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Society Blues incorporates a skillful and thought-provoking critique of the ideological presuppositions that guide the promotion of authenticity. Wald achieves this goal by sticking to the details of White's career, not generalizing about its implications, yet the point comes across with clarity and conviction."―David Sanjek, American Studies

"[An] affectionate, careful biography."―The Washington Post

"This is an outstanding contribution to scholarship, presenting a fascinating, broad-based, complex understanding of a seminal musical figure. The scope and detailed information will appeal to a scholarly audience, while the style and subject matter―popular music and twentieth-century politics, society, and racial issues―will appeal to a larger public."―Ronald D. Cohen, Indiana University, Northwest

"Josh White's career made a major―and often overlooked or trivialized―contribution to the folk music revivals of the twentieth century. Elijah Wald's work addresses the serious lack of a full-length biography of this important figure."―Millie Rahn, folklorist

"Wald's well written and deeply researched biography of Josh White is the best book on American music I've read in years (and I've read a lot of them). Anyone interested in the development of our popular music can't afford to miss it."―Dave Van Ronk

"I learned things about Josh White from this detailed biography that I never knew. Elijah Wald has done a fine job. This is a more complete and fair book than I would have believed possible."―Pete Seeger

From the Inside Flap

A gifted and charismatic entertainer, Josh White (1914-1969) was a blues star of the 1930s, a cabaret star of the 1940s, and a folk star of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1963, a Billboard magazine poll ranked him America's third most popular male folksinger, surpassed only by Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte, and ahead of Bob Dylan. White brought American folk and blues to audiences around the world 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 a childhood leading blind singers on the streets of Greenville, South Carolina, to the heights of Manhattan cafe 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 made his first recordings at age fourteen. By the 1930s he had become a recording star, with equally strong careers in blues and gospel. In the 1940s he was discovered by white audiences 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, as well as at the Roosevelt White House, becoming known as "the Presidential Minstrel". He was one of the few black figures to star on Broadway and appear in Hollywood films, the only black solo performer 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 fermentof the McCarthy era. Attempting to strike a balance that would keep his career afloat, he instead ended up alienating both political camps. Although still a star in England, he became the forgotten man at home until his resurrection during the folk revival.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press; First Edition edition (November 13, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558492690
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558492691
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,620,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By D. B Pepper on June 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
Josh White was a wonderful human being who didn't see the world in terms of color or political ideologies. There were many chapters to his life. He was raised in a God-fearing, respectable home, took to leading blind Bluesmen across the south and collecting change for them, while being abused, became a Blues star in the 1930s, a darling of the folk scene in New York City, a man whose talent and humanity were rejected because of his supposed connection to Communism, and there is a great more to tell. Unfortunately, the left perceived him to be a sell-out, and the right kept hounding him about his supposed ties to Communist groups. He gladly answered their questions each time, because he had nothing to hide, but this made him seem like a traitor to the hardcore left wing community. In Europe, he was a superstar, performing in front of thousands, and a very dear friend of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. In the 1960s, it was very hard for him to find work in America, both because of the previous decade's scare over Communism and Josh's supposed softcore Blues, which many white Blues enthusiasts who supported the Blues Revival were not interested in. Josh was a man who always took care of his family, and although he had many affairs with women of all shapes, sizes, and races, he loved his wife dearly. I cried while reading the end of this book. Any and every American should read this book cover to cover, and also own the Yazoo dvd of his performances, which is five-star material, in which every facet of this man's act is meticulously planned and pulled off magnificently. He is an unforgettable individual who paved the way for countless black entertainers of a much lower quality.
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Format: Paperback
Another must read from Elijah Wald. I say this not just as a Blues fan or music collector, though through this book I did discover a major player so to speak in the realm of acoustic Blues guitar. Indeed, this thrilling and moving biography is enlightning on many levels. It sheds light on a gaping hole in the blues/folk continuum that led to the big Folk revival of the 60's. That missing link is Josh White himself and his gripping story is a stunning saga
weaving brutal racism, the fear based politics of hysterical anti-Communism,
the making and breaking of trends in Pop culture. Through this soulful, intimate portrait, Josh White truly emerges, warts and all as an ignored national treasure.
Wald analyses brilliantly the mechanics of trends, public image and perceptions,
that contributed to collective amnesia regarding a first rate but outspoken Blues and Folk artist. This book is also more than a compelling slice of American history as it reveals the dramatic struggle of a dignified artist against much odds.
Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
It's a shame that so little is made of Josh White these days. He was a seminal figure in the early folk boom, an accomplished Piedmont style bluesman, and one of the most popular folk artists of his time. In his early days he backed Leroy Carr and recorded some fine blues. Later he fell in with the New York folk scene recording for Moe Asch. During this period he recorded with the Almanac Singers, Leadbelly and the Union Boys. His later Electra records were part of most folk enthusiasts collections. Elijah Wald did a great service in writing this book, shedding much needed light on a vital but overlooked career.
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Format: Paperback
This is a thoroughly and carefully researched, definitive study of Josh White, his music, and his times. I first heard White perform in a small New England church in the summer of 1957 where I'd been taken by my 13-year-old friend Dirk and his Quaker-lefty mother Meg. It must have been during the period that White was still blackballed by McCarthyism and anti-communist hysteria. Later I got hold of his LP with Big Bill Broonzy and listened to it many times. The book reveals how much of a professional and popularly successful musician and singer he was in the 1930s and 1940s, and how connected to the New York music scene, not to mention the Roosevelt White House. People including Roosevelt loved and respected him on many levels. The book is rich in incidents and anecdotes, many involving everyone else you may ever have heard of (or not) from that era of blues and other black music, folk, and even some Broadway--Leadbelly, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, Blind Lemon Jefferson, many others. A great book for understanding the times and the political and social context of folk/blues/popular music. Surprising to me how much Josh White was at the center of it all.
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