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News Josh White

September 5th, 1969: Singer-songwriter Josh White has died at age 55

White wrote much of the popularised version of "House Of The Rising Sun"

Singer-songwriter Josh White has died at age 55

The events we write about at Gaslight Records happened in some form or another 50 years ago to the day. Roll along with us and imagine you are back in 1969.

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September 5th, 1969: American singer, guitarist, songwriter, actor, and civil rights activist Josh White has died at the age of 55. White died in Manhasset, New York from heart disease.

During his music career, White recorded with Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. He was a member of the folk group The Almanac Singers with Guthrie and Seeger.

Singer-songwriter Josh White has died at age 55
Josh White with Leadbelly

In the mid-1940s, White recorded the Australian folk song "Waltzing Matilda" after learning it from an Australian sailor, backstage at the Cafe Society. Listen below.

In 1947 Josh White recorded "House Of The Rising Sun" with new lyrics, which were subsequently used by The Animals, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Dave Van Ronk, and Bob Dylan. He learned the song from a "white hillbilly singer" in North Carolina in the early 1920s.

White established a close relationship with the family of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and would become the closest African-American confidant to the President of the United States. The Roosevelts were the godparents of Josh White Jr.

The first time White met The President, Roosevelt said to him. "You know, Josh, when I first heard your song 'Uncle Sam Says,' I thought you were referring to me as Uncle Sam...Am I right?" White responded, "Yes, Mr. President, I wrote that song to you after seeing how my brother was treated in the segregated section of Fort Dix army camp... However, that wasn't the first song I wrote to you... In 1933, I wrote and recorded a song called 'Low Cotton,' about the plight of Negro cotton pickers down South, and in the lyrics, I made an appeal directly to you to help their situation."

Listen to "Uncle Sam Says" below.

After hearing of White's death, singer Harry Belefonte said, "I can't tell you how sad I am. I spent many, many hours with him in the years of my early development. He had a profound influence on my style. At the time I came along, he was the only popular black folk singer, and through his artistry exposed America to a wealth of material about the life and conditions of black people that had not been sung by any other artist."

Listen to a Best Of compilation of Josh White's work below.

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