Joshua Daniel White was born on February 11, 1915, to a poor preacher and his wife, in Greenville, South Carolina. As a child, White loved music and sang in the church choir. At the tender age of seven, he witnessed the fatal beating of his father by sheriff’s deputies — for the late payment of a bill. A few weeks later, White met Blind Man Arnold, an old, black street singer and guitarist who offered him a job as a “lead boy.” Over the next nine years, White walked barefoot across the country, dancing, singing, playing the tambourine and eventually the guitar. Accompanying him were Arnold, and later, 66 other blind singers. Moving to New York City in 1931, he began recording a string of spiritual successes such as Joshua White: The Singing Christian. He also recorded several blues hits under the name “Pinewood Tom.” White was the first black artist to break the racial barriers at hotels, clubs and concert halls across America, and also the first to make a national solo concert tour. His protest records dealt with social issues of concern to black Americans, such as institutionalized racism, lynchings and segregation in housing and the armed forces. When President Roosevelt heard of White’s controversial music, the singer was asked to perform for the president — becoming the first black artist to give a White House Command Performance. In 1950, U.N. Ambassador Eleanor Roosevelt and Josh White made an unprecedented and historic speaking and concert tour of Europe.
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