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Josh White, Jr.

Actor and folk singer Josh Daniel White, Jr. was born on November 30, 1940, in New York City to Carol and Joshua Daniel White, Sr., the legendary singer, guitarist, actor and social leader. At the age of four, White found fame by performing with his father at New York’s Café Society, America’s first integrated nightclub.

White attended New York’s Professional Children’s School, along with Elliott Gould, Sandra Dee, Brandon De Wilde, Leslie Uggams, Christopher Walken and Marvin Hamlisch, who co-wrote White’s first solo recording for Decca Records in 1956, "See Saw." In 1949, White landed his first role on Broadway by playing his father’s son in, "How Long Til Summer?" White received a special Tony Award for Best Child Actor For his performance. While continuing his acting career, White went on to perform and record with his father for the next seventeen years.

In 1957, White landed a role in the Off-Broadway play, "Take a Giant Step," replacing his friend Louis Gossett, Jr. He went on to star in more than fifty American television dramas and co-starred with his father in Great Britain in, "The Josh White Show." In 1961, White decided to pursue a solo concert and recording career. From 1963 through the 1980s, White headlined more than 2,000 college concerts. At the peak of the folk boom, White was considered one of the National Association of Campus Activities’ most celebrated and honored performing artists. Co-starring with Odetta Gordon, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Richie Havens, Tom Paxton and Oscar Brand, White performed on the National PBS-TV Tribute Special to Woody Guthrie, "Woody & Me," and was named the Voice of the Peace Corps and the Voice of VISTA by the United States government in 1980.

In 1991, White teamed up with Rändi Douglas, the founder of Living History, to teach history and social studies with kinesthetic, multiple intelligence activities. White gives music lecture sessions on his father for grades five through twelve.

Josh Daniel White was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 26, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.189

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/26/2007

Last Name

White

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Professional Children's School

Downtown Community School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Josh

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

WHI14

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

Peace.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Interview Description
Birth Date

11/30/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Detroit

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Apple Pie

Short Description

Actor and folk singer Josh White, Jr. (1940 - ) entered show business at a very early age, and received his first Tony award at the age of nine. By the age of twenty-one, he had starred in more than fifty American television dramas, and co-starred with his father in Great Britain for North Grenada Television in The Josh White Show. At the peak of the folk boom, the mid-1960s through the late-1970s, White was considered one of the National Association of Campus Activities’ most celebrated and honored performing artists.

Favorite Color

Black, Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Josh White, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's work for blind musicians

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father and paternal grandfather's arrests

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's singing career

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his father's rendition of 'Strange Fruit'

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his and his father's genre of music

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's injury

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's song, 'Southern Exposure'

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers the Cafe Society in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's involvement with the House Un-American Activities Committee

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his father's song, 'House of the Rising Sun'

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. recalls his community in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. describes his father's education

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. describes the sights and sounds of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes the sights and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. describes his family's relationship with the Roosevelts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his German shepherd dog

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. remembers the Professional Children's School in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his early acting roles on Broadway and television

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. describes his record single, 'See Saw'

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his Broadway roles

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his experiences at the Professional Children's School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his experiences in high school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. remembers working with African American theater actors

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his teachers at the Professional Children's School

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. recalls his first European tour with his father

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers recording 'Josh White at Town Hall'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his sisters' singing careers

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. remembers learning to play the guitar

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. recalls his first solo tour

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his role as singer

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. talks about the political and social messages in music

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. describes his musical audience

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. remembers recording 'Do You Close Your Eyes'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. describes his work with Bobby Scott

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. talks about his marriage to Jackie Harris White

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. remembers recording music with his sisters

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. describes his single, 'Good and Drunk and Goozey'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his father's death

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Josh White, Jr. describes his 'One Step Further' album tour

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Josh White, Jr. remembers his performances on college campuses

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Josh White Jr. talks about his marriage to Sara White

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Josh White Jr. reflects upon his experiences of racial discrimination

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Josh White Jr. talks about his transition to educational music

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Josh White Jr. remembers Tom Paxton and Odetta Gordon

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Josh White Jr. reflects upon contemporary music

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Josh White Jr. talks about 'Josh: The Man and His Music'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Josh White Jr. describes his history education programs

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Josh White, Jr. describes the StoryLiving educational program, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Josh White, Jr. describes the StoryLiving educational program, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Josh White, Jr. remembers September 11th, 2001

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Josh White, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Josh White, Jr. shares a message to future generations

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

6$8

DATitle
Josh White, Jr. describes his father's work for blind musicians
Josh White, Jr. recalls his first solo tour
Transcript
All right, let's talk more about your father. Tell me about his growing up.$$Well, I think my grandmother [Daisy Elizabeth White] had lost two or three children. I think there was a total of eight, I heard, but it was my father, two other brothers and two sisters that I knew survived and I know that at the age of seven, my father was coming home from school and there were a lot of blind, black street musicians at the turn of the century. They were not beggars. They played and they earned their money on the street and there was a gentleman waiting to cross who was blind. My old man was raised properly. He crossed the man. The man asked my father what his name was, my old man said Joshua [Josh White], and right then the man sang, 'Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho' to him and asked him if he would, my dad would be willing to lead him after work for two dollars a week. Of course, my old man thought this was going to be a great adventure, but my grandmother had the last say-so and because he felt he was named after Joshua in the Bible, she wanted to make sure that her son was doing something that would be good in the eyes of God. Being the eyes of the blind would be something, but she prayed over this for like two or three weeks before she would say yes, and so he started leading this man, Blind Man Arnold [John Henry Arnold], and he would put his hand on my dad's shoulder, lead him to downtown whatever, circa 1922, the man would play and sing. My dad would be the tambourine, then pass the tambourine for money. My dad did that and for the next nine-and-a-half years, that's all he did, didn't go to school. He led sixty-six different men around the South, Texas, and what some of them would do if they had a good week, Blind Man Arnold might loan my dad out to another blind man for so much money and he'd sit on his laurels and dad would go and lead him and this blind, the first blind man would get money for dad's use over there and dad would get whatever, moneys. My old man was saying that they all weren't, at least legally blind you can see something a little bit, so some were not totally blind 'cause I remember him saying that he would, he wrote back about treatment that wasn't nice. Sometimes he didn't always get to his mom, but he had situations while leading these men that had affected the rest of his life. One incredible story was at eight years old they were sleeping in the fields. Now sometimes a black family would put them up, or sometimes they would put the man up, not the kid, or they'd sleep in a barn or something. They happened to be out in the field and, as you, as one may surmise, people on the road, they, their coach might have hooks that carry their frying pan and so they clanked a lot just because all of their belongings are with them. My father said he was awakened with a hand over his mouth. It was the blind man; in fact, it might have been Blind Man Arnold, I don't know. He had heard some commotion, didn't know what it was, didn't want my father to wake up and make noise before we found out what it was. It was a bunch of white people--men, women, and children--who had caught two black men. God knows what they did. They didn't even have to be guilty of it, but they certainly were hanging, dead. My dad said it went through the night and they had a fire, poker, drinking, and sometimes somebody would grab a poker, get it hot, and go up and burn one of these dead bodies. They knew they could not move. If they wanted to sneak out of there and the guitar happened to hit a rock or his frying pan happened to hit something, there'd be four bodies up there, so they waited knowing, like roaches, when the light comes they scatter. As these cowards did, then it was safe to leave. My father died at age fifty-five, and he sang the song 'Strange Fruit.' Whenever my father sang 'Strange Fruit,' I could always see that eight year old boy's eyes watching that lynching. I mean, I would be on the, my sister and I used to work--and we'd be in the wings, but when he did that song I didn't go back in the dressing room, didn't want to hear him, didn't want to see him. Whether one, anybody liked my old man's version of it, he lived it, he saw it, and I felt it.$So, anyway, here we are 1961, June, and my gig is in Detroit, Michigan at a folk club right, not too far up the street from a very famous Baker's Keyboard Lounge, jazz place here in Detroit, and I remember distinctly because the Ramsey Lewis Trio was playing there and I wanted to see them but I wasn't twenty-one, you have to be twenty-one to get in because, to drink. But they knew I was another performer, so I was allowed to go see them. But it was interesting when I first started off because most of my strength came from working with the old man [Josh White], so I pulled some of his tunes and some of the ones I used to do; again, my dad was never a traditional folk singer. I'm not a traditional folk singer. I happen to sing and play guitar but if it's a song I like and if I can hear it, I'm gonna do it. I'm not gonna wait to say, what is it labeled? It's labeled I like it. That's the label and that's what I want to convey to you when I sing it. So I, that's what I did and I was sort of nervous to do two forty-five minute shows but then all of a sudden it wasn't that bad and I kind of liked it and they liked me. What I had to be careful of when I first started out was venue owners taking advantage of the name. I had to sometimes, after a while, make sure that in the contract or when they advertised, that the J in Jr. was also 100 percent typed and the R no less than 60, because they'd be Josh White, (whispering) Jr. [HistoryMaker Josh White, Jr.], and that wasn't fair. So I had to make sure that was a respectful thing for them to do. Whether they all come see me if they find out it's not dad, it's, whoever comes in, I gotta keep 'em there. My old man's not gonna keep 'em there. I'm going to or I'm not going to, but let me do it that way. And my father never spoke a lot on stage. I think he felt limited because, so, he'd just pretty much introduce a song and do it, and I pretty much did that until I sang in Boston [Massachusetts] in '61 [1961] or '2 [1962], and I ran into Jackie Washington Landron [Jack Landron], a young black man out of Roxbury [Boston, Massachusetts]. He changed my approach to performing because we always joked we who play guitar and that between songs you gotta always tune. But when he was tuning he would talk to the people about things they could relate to about going to the A and P [The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company], and whatever, and that was part of entertaining. Well that happens to me, too. So all of a sudden, I would start talking to the people and doing a little of that, and all of a sudden I'm much more in tune to talking on stage than my father ever would have been had he lived to be a thousand. I'm comfortable with that and at this point in time, some friends think I talk too much, but it is still me. I'm a package. It's not just what I play and what I sing, but it is me. All that I, all I do to entertain. There is talking involved. I think you, Jackie, always for that. He opened that up for me and I found it was comfortable.$$You saw this was the way that he did it and felt that maybe you would try it, is that what you mean (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, I thought because you had pregnant moments up there and you gotta do something with that time. You just don't wanna have empty time when you're tuning. You wanna say something. Oh, yeah. Then I started talking about when you fly somewhere and, you know, you wind up somewhere but your guitar winds up in Buffalo [New York]. People can relate to it because they lost luggage. Natural. So it opened me up to feel more comfortable to talk and sing and I've been doing that ever since and that's part of what I do.