The Blues Guide Boy Story From His Son, Josh White Jr.

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 01 February 2016

Leroy Moore

Leroy F. Moore: Jr.: Thanks you so much for agreeing to do an interview it means a lot to me. You are the son of a great Folk/Blues artist/activist, Josh White Sr. What have you learned from your father musically and social justice?

Josh White Jr.: Dad used to say if you don’t believe what you saying, then those you are singing to won’t believe you and when you are going to sing, make sure your every word can be understood.

Leroy F. Moore: Explain your music and how you come up with topics of your songs being a social activist?

Josh White Jr.: All one needs to do is listen and observe and if you can’t find your own words, there will be writers out there who will and you will have a source to hold on to.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: You have a song that I use in my workshops because it’s a true story of a Black blind musician, CORTELIA CLARK. Please explain his story and why you wrote this song to us.

Josh White Jr.: I was and still am a big fan of MICKIE NEWBURY who wrote the song and from the first time I started to learn C.C, I thought of my old man about his beginnings.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: As a Black Disabled researcher, journalist and music scholar, I was excited when I read the book Josh White: Society Blues about his life. That is where I learned that he was a guide to most famous Blind Blues artists all through the South. Did your father share with you some of these stories?

Josh White Jr.: Leroy, he never talked about the blind men he led. There were 66 different blind black street singers my old man led. From the age of 7 to 16 and a half, none would teach him how to play. So he would pick up the guitar of whomever he was leading at the time when they would go off and do whatever they were going to do without their guitar and dad would play it in whatever tuning it was in and with his own raw talent he found his way.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: I have always had this dream to walk your father’s path that he led blind Blues artists throughout the South. Did he ever share to you his path that he set in the South?

Josh White Jr.: Dad never did. The one story he did recount was watching the hanging of three young black men. I know whenever sang Strange Fruit, he was singing from the eyes of 7 years old.

Leroy F. Moore Jr. From the DVD "Josh White: Free and Equal Blues." he explained about how the streets were full of blind men artists back then. In your view what was the attitudes back then and how did the industry treat Blind Black Blues artistes back then compare today?

Josh White Jr.: In the early 1900s there were many Black blind street singers all across the south and they were not begging, they would stand on the different streets and EARN a living. The record industry had their pick of Black blind singers to record.

Leroy F. Moore Jr. Your website says you’re a social activist. Tell us about your social activism and do you think if your father was alive would he be involved in this moment of heighten police brutality? And have you wrote a song about police brutality?

Josh White, Jr.: Anything that is inhuman… from coal miner’s plight to really any human injustice. I live with do unto others as you would have others do unto you as opposed to, do unto others BEFORE they do unto you. For years I went with a buddy and created music with incarcerated boys. We put music to their writings they gave us from their journals. From two different universities I’ve gotten honorary degrees. When I did the one man show of my father’s live in Lansing, Michigan, that year May 23, 1983 was declared Josh White, Jr. day in the state of Michigan. There are a few more, but this should cover what I am about. If my old man had lived to a 100, he would have been in the forefront of social change.

Leroy F. Moore: How did blind Blues artists get a hold of your father back then and was there other guide persons at that time?

Josh White Jr.: I’m sure it must have been word of mouth, from blind man to blind man. He wasn’t the only lead boy.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: You started performing with your father at four years old so you like your father must of saw the good side and bad side of the music industry especially back then being Black. Please share a story from your childhood that sticks out.

Josh White, Jr.: Let me tell you what my old man used to do, and that I will do today considering the circumstances. Since I was 4 I have sung to white people so most of the places worked again were in a white community. So either at the gig or when going to a joint to eat you always back into your parking space so if you need to leave in a hurry, it is just one move and you’re gone.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: I’m a poet and songwriter and also involve in Black Disability Coalition where we are creating Black Disability Studies and I do believe that story telling is huge using your father’s and your song/s can bring a positive imprint on not only Black disabled/non-disabled but all students. Tell how you use story telling in your school presentations?

Josh White Jr.: All I do is first; carry my old man’s book for all to see. Secondly, I start out with the song “hard time blues” about the southern black man’s plight. Thirdly, telling them about the old man being the first black man to sing at the white house. Four, being one of the first black men to be put on a United States 2postal stamp. Five, the first black singer to have a million seller, the song, “One Meat Ball” Six, his first tour in Europe with Eleanor Roosevelt and lastly, the first black musician for whom Ovation Guitar makers built a Josh White model with his signature on the head stock.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: I truly believe that the struggles of Blues artists are what many Hip-Hop artists went through when Hip-Hop started. What can the founders Hip-Hop who are getting older becoming disabled learn from your father and founders of the Blues?

Josh White Jr.: I am not sure about the word disabled. If you are already a performer there is no reason to stop. Some of the best singers I have ever heard couldn’t get out of their wheelchairs. There is no reason to stop performing; there will always be ears out there to hear.

Leroy F. Moore Jr. I wrote a poem about your father leading Black Blind Blues men throughout the South. How can we pass down this story to others?

Josh White, Jr.: I am not sure but if get in touch with my manager he might be able to direct you. HIS NAME IS DOUG YEAGER,  I WILL EMAIL YOU HIS NUMBER.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: Doing research on blind/disabled Black Blues artists, I realize that there is a lack of Black blind Blues women. What are your view and did your father ever led Black blind women who were Blues artists?

Josh White, Jr.: Good question. I could mention Bessie Smith and other female blues singers but the old man never spoke of them and I checked with a good friend of mine who had a blues show on NPR for years and he could not remember any Black blind women street singers, it might have been too risky.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.: What is your next project and how can people stay in contact?

Josh White Jr.: Just go to my web page, JOSH WHITE JR .COM

Leroy F. Moore Jr. Any last words?

Josh White Jr.: Thank you for being interested, and if there is anything else, let me know.



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