Monday, August 29, 2016

Josh White

It was Miami, Florida around circa 1961.   It was the "Beatnik" generation.    Coffee houses with espresso coffee were popular.   A friend told me of a new one called The Ravens Nest.  It was located in a small shopping center at the northwest corner of the intersection of Red Road and Bird Road for those of you who are familiar with Miami.  

One evening I decided to give it a try and see what it was like.   It was pretty neat.   After passing through the door there were two hallways:  one to the left which was dedicated to poetry readings (I didn't care for them) and to the right led to a room where guitar players would sing folk songs and the like (which I liked).   The hallways were dark and on the walls were designs painted with fluorescent paint illuminated with black lights (ultraviolet) like the pictures below.

You get the idea.    I became a regular at the Ravens Nest.  

I didn't care for the espresso coffee but I liked the music.   In general, the performers were pretty good and usually got a mild applause from the audience.   But then there was one night where the performer was spectacular.   Absolutely spectacular.   The audience went wild with applause after each song.   Not just applause but also loud cheering.    And I was enthusiastically applauding and cheering loudly along with the rest of audience.    I don't have the words to explain how good this performer was.    He played a 12 string guitar which I had never heard of or seen before.   The singers name was Josh White.

The audience was electrified and between songs he would talk.    I remember him explaining about the 12 string guitar and its qualities.   In a sense he was teaching the audience about a 12 string guitar.   When I left The Ravens Nest later he was sitting outside with several young white men and he was talking to them about segregation and discrimination.    I think that he was trying to educate the young men about the racial problems of the day.   They listened intently to him.   He had a mild manner of speaking that put the young men at ease.   At the time I didn't know who Josh White was.   His accomplishments and accolades accolades are much too numerous to list here.   Go to the Wikipedia site on Josh White.   You will be absolutely amazed.

In 1965 I left Miami and moved to Arizona to attend Arizona State University.   One day around 1967 while walking to class I saw a demonstration of anti-war protesters on campus.  The students were sitting on the grass.   That grassy area in the center of the picture below.  

They were sitting silently and listening intently to a guitar player/singer.   Yeah, you guessed it.   It was none other than Josh White himself.   I recognized him.    The young college students were entranced by his music and mild demeanor.   I stopped briefly to listen and I heard him telling the students that if they wanted to hold demonstrations be sure not to do anything for which they could get arrested.   He told them to be sure to finish college and graduate.   Then when they were in a position to have some influence to then make those influences manifest.    I thought that was good advice that he was giving to those students about not getting arrested.   Again he was educating others.   I wanted to go speak to him but I was on my way to class and couldn't wait.   I was really impressed by this man.    I honestly never realized how great he really was until I started researching his life for this blog.

I also collect commemorative postage stamps as a hobby.    I was glad to see a United States postage stamp issued in his honor in 1998.

So this is my story of my two encounters with the legendary singer Josh White.   I wish now that I had talked with him on both of those occasions.   Please feel free to add anything that you know of Josh White or encounters in the comments section below.

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