Josh White / Feb 11, 1914 - Sept 5, 1969

The activist singer Josh White got his start as a homeless teenager, recording his own blues and gospel sides, and cutting sessions for other singers before a period of inactivity due to a serious hand injury. Healed, he starred on Broadway, became FDR's closest friend and was a well-loved country-blues artist in the '40s. One of the most popular artists of the day, he also made some movie appearances at a time when blacks were rarely seen starring onscreen. In fact, White's career was full of "firsts" for black artists...until McCarthyism damaged his reputation with the American public and he was blacklisted and deported (despite being American!). This was surely due to his deep involvement in the civil rights and anti-segregationist movements of the '40s (not to mention his relations with white women). His appearance before the HUAC, despite not naming names, left many uninformed lefties full of rumors and his career took a hit, both popularly and with progressives. He spent some time in Europe during his ban and finally returned to record for Elektra Records. His ban was halted in 1963 and he got his own US postage stamp in '98.

Check him out in this live performance for Swedish television, in '62 (while still under a ban in the U.S.):

Tagged: blues, Celebrate Icons, folk, Josh White, Video, vintage footage

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