Josh White Jr. was born November 30, 1940, in New York City, one of five children, to Joshua Daniel White, famed singer/guitarist/actor/social leader, and his wife Carol (nee Carr).
Josh White Jr., became, a “hit” literally over night at the age of four, by performing with his legendary father, Josh White Sr., one night at New York’s famed “Cafe Society” night club (America’s first integrated nightclub). For the next five years, Josh Jr. performed with his father from New York to Boston to Philadelphia. In 1949, Josh Jr. landed his first role on Broadway, and as Josh says, “It was type casting . . .” he played his father’s son in “How Long ‘Til Summer?” with Dorothy Gish and Don Hamner. While continuing a solo acting career, Josh went on to perform and record with his father for the next seventeen years on radio, television, Broadway, concert halls and nightclubs around the world.
Josh attended New York’s famed Professional Children’s School, along with Elliott Gould, Sandra Dee, Brandan de Wilde, Leslie Uggams, Christopher Walken, and, among others, Marvin Hamlisch, who co-wrote Josh’s first solo recording for Decca in 1956, “See Saw”.
Between the years 1949 and 1960 Josh was in five Broadway plays and one off-Broadway play: “How Long ‘Til Summer”, in which he was honored with a Special Tony Award as “Best Child Actor” of the year in 1949; “The Man,” with Josh White Sr. (1950); “Touchstone” (1955); “Take A Giant Step” (1957) (the popular, long-running Off-Broadway play, in which he was the third person to take over the starring role, following Billy Gunn and Josh’s friend Lou Gossett); “Only In America” (1959) starring Nehemiah Persoff; and “The Long Dream,” (1959) book by Richard Wright, directed by Lloyd Richards, whose cast included Al Freeman Jr. and newcomer Clarence Williams III. Some other actors he shared the stage with in these plays were Arthur O’Connell, Godfrey Cambridge, Patty McCormick, Beah Richards.
By 1961 Josh had already guest starred in more than 50 American television dramas, and costarred with his father in Great Britain for North Grenada television in “The Josh White Show.” However, as he was approaching his 21st birthday, the number of acting jobs available on Broadway, TV and film for young Black actors was limited, while musically, the Folk Revival in America was beginning to take storm and offer more lucrative opportunities. Accordingly, Josh decided to focus on his career as a singer/guitarist, put his acting career on hold, and branch out from his long association with his father, to go on the road alone to pursue his solo concert and recording career.
As a concert artist, Josh Jr. has performed on the world’s greatest stages of four continents, including Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Odeon Hammersmith Hall, Berlin Philharmonic Hall, and Madison Square Garden, to name a few.
From 1963 through the ‘80s, Josh headlined more than 2000 college concerts. At the peak of this folk boom, in the mid ‘60s through the late ‘70s, Josh was considered one of NACA’s (National Association of Campus Activities) most celebrated and honored performing artists. C. Shaw Smith, from Davidson College, North Carolina, penned him the “Dean of College Concert Attractions”.
Josh returned to the theatrical stage in 1983, in his first musical - a musical revue - “One for Me, One for You”, an original regional theater production, with all of the songs written by his good friend, Mayon Weeks, who was also one of the performers. In 1983, he premiered the musical dramatic biography of his father Josh White, Sr., entitled “Josh: The Man & His Music” (written and directed by Broadway veteran Peter Link) to “rave reviews” at the Center for the Arts, Boarshead Theater, in Lansing, Michigan, for a five-week, sold out, limited-run engagement. Every few years Josh Jr. reprises the play on the road with great success and is proud to maintain the image, story and songs that his father gave us all. Josh also sang “The John Henry Suite”, as guest star with the “Dance Theatre of Harlem” in a limited tour which took him from New York to San Francisco with one of the stops at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Josh Jr.’s marriage in 1963 to Jackie Harris produced two children - Joshua ‘Buddah’ White III, an actor/playwright born in 1963, and Jason, born in 1969. In November, 1971, following the death of his wife and just two years after the death of his father, Josh Jr. left New York City, and moved to upstate New York with his two sons and slowed down his touring. During that time, he established an artist-in-residence program at many college campuses he performed at during the regular school year so he, his sons and their Malamute, Robin, could spend their summers together. Josh White Jr. moved to Detroit in 1976 and married Sara in 1978. Sara brought four children to the marriage and Josh brought two. Their children, now all adults, have blessed Josh and Sara with thirteen grandchildren.
Josh White Jr. received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from the University of Maine, and the University of West Florida; was named the “Voice of The Peace Corps” and “Voice of VISTA” by the US Government in 1980; in 1982, he shared the stage with his mother at the Smithsonian Institution’s 100th Birthday Celebration of Franklin Roosevelt. In 1983, he was presented with “Keys to the City” by Detroit and Lansing, Michigan, and on April 20, 1983, the State of Michigan honored he and his father with “Josh White and Josh White Jr. Day”; in 1984, he was named “Michigan Man of the Year;” in 1984, NACA (National Association of Campus Activities) honored Josh with its first “Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award” at Opryland in Nashville; in 1987, he was honored to be named the Host and Emcee for the final two legs of festivities for Pope John Paul II’s grand tour of America. In earlier years, he also appeared with his father at President Johnson’s Inauguration and at a Command Performance for the Prime Minister of Canada. In July, 1997, Josh was the Special Guest Star Performer at the National Community Service Conference’s Annual Banquet in New York honoring cofounder of the Peace Corps, Harris Wolford, with its Lifetime Achievement Award; Josh performed “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”, the Peace Corps Theme Song he had recorded for Mr. Wolford and Sargent Shriver years earlier.
In recent years, Josh Jr. has added to his multi-dimensional talents and touring schedule, by becoming a “single-digit” (as he calls it) performer, doing children and family concerts, including school concerts for grades K-4. With the release of the U.S. Postal Service’s stamp honoring his father (and Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Sonny Terry) he does a music/lecture session on his father, Josh Sr. for grades 5 through 12. He provides an extraordinary, interactive experience for young people.
In 1991, Josh teamed up with the founder of “Story Living”, Randi Douglas, an outreach alternative educational program. They later re-named the program “Living History” with the purpose to teach history and social studies using kinesthetic, multiple intelligence activities. As Josh relates, “It is where you become the people you are learning about . . . and then when you become emotionally involved, you never forget.” All this takes place in the classroom with music, imagination and role-playing. Sessions are held in schools from third to twelfth grades, in addition to universities, churches, temples, community centers, libraries and at seminars.
In the last four years, Josh has released additional new audio and video product: The Guitar of Josh White, an instructional video tape on Homespun Video; the award-winning instructional video, It Starts with a Book . . . and You, a reading inspiration for children, distributed by Vince Deur Productions. He can also be heard singing his father’s 1944 classic, “Freedom Road” by Langston Hughes and Josh White, on Tel Arc’s compilation album, My Country Awake: The Freedom Compilation; and “Come On Into My Kitchen”, on Cannonball Records release of the Robert Johnson Tribute CD, Dealin’with the Devil - Songs of Robert Johnson (historically interesting because Robert’s 1937 recording of that song used the same melody line from Josh White’s 1932 recording of “Things About Coming My Way”). In addition, he can be heard singing duets with Roger McGuinn on “Trouble in Mind” and “Dink’s Song” for the Grammy-nominated Roger McGuinn - Treasures from the Folk Den CD (Appleseed Records); plus a live festival duet of “If I Had A Hammer” with Pat Humphries on Siren Records. A biography on his father’s life, Josh White Society Blues by Elijah Wald, (University of Massachusetts Press, 2000), was followed by Josh joining Mr. Wald in a national book signing tour. Since 2001, Josh has joined with friends in the historic Americana touring package show, Glory Bound, starring Odetta in a salute to Leadbelly, Oscar Brand in a salute to Woody Guthrie and Josh White Jr. in a salute to Josh White.
Following the success of Silverwolf Record’s rave-reviewed CD release tribute to his dad, House of the Rising Son and the CD, Cortelia Clark, Josh’s long-awaited live band album, Josh White Jr. Live, was released in December 2003.
In the wake of America’s tragedy September 11, 2001, Lydia/Gateway Records recorded Josh performing two of his father’s patriotic and civil rights classics, “The House I Live In” and “Free and Equal Blues,” for their 2002 compilation release, Celebrate America. Concurrently, Josh was the first artist asked (and allowed) to sing at New York’s hallowed Ground Zero site.