Josh White was a key figure in the evolution of the folk and blues music revivals, a brilliant guitarist and dashingly sexy cabaret star who for three decades was the world's most popular acoustic blues performer. After a childhood leading blind street singers through the South, Josh was a popular recording artist in the 1930s golden age of acoustic blues; then in the 1940s he became the first bluesman to capture a large mainstream audience. Though his smooth, polished style is quite unlike the harder-edged approach that many people now consider basic to blues, his unique, lyrical guitar work and soulful singing made him a formative influence on the international folk scene.
This video begins with a rare filmed snippet from the 1940s, then includes a range of European performances from the 1960s, showing the breadth and variety of Josh's repertoire, from traditional blues and gospel to folk revival standards and cabaret material. It captures the intimate, sophisticated style, swing and power that made Josh the most influential guitarist on the early folk scene and one of America's defining entertainers.
Titles include: The House I Live In, Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, Blind Man Stood on the Road and Cried, Strange Fruit, Jelly Jelly, Uncle Sam Says, Free and Equal Blues, John Henry, Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out, I Wish the World Were Colorblind, Whatcha Gonna Do, Scarlet Ribbons, Cindy, Danny Boy, You Know Baby What I Want from You, Number Twelve Train, Waltzing Matilda, Apples, Peaches and Cherries & You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To.
Running Time: 58 minutes
Review: Rare performance footage of this Folk/Blues/ Cabaret legend from European TV sources. (and a nice booklet of notes as well). Last month at the huge Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, there were two "panels" relating to folk singer/actor Josh White in celebration of 2014 being the 100th anniversary of his birth. (White died in 1969 at the age of 55). One was a celebration of his music and the other was a discussion of the influence that he had on bringing "black music" to a white audience. (White's son - Josh White Jr. - who followed in his father's footsteps and is both a singer and actor, was on both these panels and I had a chance to meet him as well.) The senior White was in white night clubs and singing ballads on TV before Harry Belafonte. And he was handsome and neatly always wore a shirt that was open and also showed his muscular body. But he was also interested in racial issues and spent his early career accompanying a blind black blues singer on a journey to Europe. And, it's thanks to European television (in this case, Swedish TV), which recorded many black performers (and actually preserved the video tapes!) and musician/instructor Stefan Grossman (who produces wonderful guitar videos under the Vestapol imprint) that we can experience White in Concert.
The sad part - if there is one - is that most of the footage included on this DVD (originally released in 2009 - but I only recently discovered it) is from the later years of White's life. The first few songs - the most "political" ones - are from the 1940s from a British TV documentary. We then jump to 1967 for two songs from White's last filmed appearance (on Swedish TV) in 1967. The remainder of the DVD comes from Sweden again but goes back to 1962. There are folk songs and "Cafe Society" pop songs. It's interesting to see the stares of the all white (and mostly blonde) Swedish audience's looks when White croons Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" as his closer.
The transfers (in black and white) are fine and so is the sound - especially on the Swedish performances. And, though the DVD package, says that there is a 24 page booklet of notes and photos, including an essay on White by Elijah Wald, as a downloadable PDF on the DVD, the printed version is also included in the package. A nice touch.
In this Centennial Year for White, I hope more folks discover his recordings and this DVD is a great place to start. - Steve Ramm/Anything Phonographic