1st Edition

Josh White Society Blues

By Elijah Wald Copyright 2000
    374 Pages 8 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    376 Pages 8 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Born in South Carolina, White spent his childhood as a lead boy for traveling blind bluesmen. In the early '30s he moved to New York and became a popular blues star, then introduced folk-blues to a mass white audience in the 1940s. He was famed both for his strong Civil Rights songs, which made him a favorite of the Roosevelts, and for his sexy stage persona. The king of Café Society-also home to Billie Holiday--he was the one bluesman to consistently pack the New York nightspots, and the first black singer-guitarist to act in Hollywood films and star on Broadway. In the 1950s, White's bitter compromise with the blacklisters left him with few friends on either end of the political spectrum. He spent much of the decade in Europe, then came back strong in the 1960s folk revival. By 1963, he was voted one of America's top three male folk stars, but his health was failing and he did not survive the decade. Written in an engaging style, Society Blues portrays the difficult balancing act that all black performers must face in a predominantly white culture. Through the twists and turns of White's life, it traces the evolution of the blues and folk revival, and is a must read for anyone interested in the history of American popular culture, as well as a fascinating life story. Visit the author's website to see the Josh White photo gallery and learn more about Elijah Wald.

    1: Southern Exposure 1914–1921; 2: Homeless and Hungry Blues 1921–1930; 3: Things about Coming my Way 1930–1936; 4: John Henry 1936–1939; 5: Raise A Ruckus (1940); 6: Marching Down Freedom's Road (1941); 7: Partnerships: Leadbelly and Libby Holman 1941–1943; 8: Cafe Society 1943–1945; 9: The House I Live in; 10: Apples, Peaches, and cherries 1946–1947; 11: Travels, Whiskey, and Women; 12: Broadway Hollywood, and Beyond 1947–1950; 13: Un-American Activities 1950; 14: Strange Fruit; 15: Across the Atlantic 1951; 16: You Know Baby 1952–1953; 17: Josh at Midnight 1954–1958; 18: Folk Revival; 19: House of the Rising Sun 1958–1963; 20: Goin' Down Slow 1963–1969; Epilogue


    Elijah Wald wrote on music for the Boston Globe for 15 years. He is the author of Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas. Harper Collins/RAYO, 2001, and coauthor of Mississippi: River of Song, which accompanied a PBS series for which he served as a consultant. He maintains a website on his writing and performing, www.elijahwald.com.

    "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