Georgia White with Bumble Bee Slim

Georgia White was (supposedly) born on 9 March 1903 in Sandersville (Washington County) a town just west of Macon, Georgia. The only source for her birth date are the recollections of Big Bill Broonzy in his autobiography, and this has never been proven/substantiated.

Actually it is hard to think of a better example of the precariousness of a blues singer's success: she was one of the most recorded female blues artists of the 1935-1941 period, and was actually promoted at the time by Decca as "The World's Greatest Blues Singer" (and her competition at the time was quite tough: Memphis Minnie, Lucille Bogan, Lil and Merlin Johnson). On the other hand, nothing is known of her childhood and youth, and, after her last recording session in 1941, she suffered a very abrupt demise from public favor. After forming an "all-girl band" and having a brief stint in 1949/1950 with Big Bill Broonzy's Laughing Trio, she continued appearing in Chicago clubs for several years - her last known appearance being at the Downer's Grove in 1959. She then practically disappeared and it is believed to have passed away in about 1980. Thus, the only way one can render her due tribute to Georgia White, is talking about her music, her outstanding recorded legacy that deserves much better fate than the oblivion where it is confined today.

She sang with a strong, biting, occasionally throaty (yet always perfectly controlled) contralto voice, and was equally capable of delivering both lowdown blues ("Dead Man's Blues" and "Moonshine Blues" are two of my favorites) and, no doubt at the behest of her producers, more risqué material ("Hot Nuts", "Daddy Let Me Lay It On You" and "I'll Keep Sitting On It" are superb examples of ribald songs interpreted in a laid-back manner with just the right touch of impish mischief). She played piano in a good, solid, rocking style, rooted in the best barrelhouse tradition, and was also responsible for writing a good percentage of the material she recorded.

Perhaps, the best proof of her talent are the outstanding musicians that accompanied her on her recording sessions: it will suffice to mention that many of her sides are graced by the incredible guitar work of one of a trio of outstanding guitarists: Lonnie Johnson, Ikey "Banjo" Robinson and Les Paul. From 1936, Richard M. Jones (Recording Director for Okeh between 1925 and 1928, when he was responsible in getting Louis Armstrong to make his pivotal records with the Hot Five and Seven for that company, Decca executive from 1935, and prolific composer) took her place on the piano stool. Perhaps it was his influence that resulted in Georgia White recording some of the great blues numbers from the 20s, some of which Jones had just happened to have written himself, although authorship of some of his compositions has been questioned.

The revival of "Trouble In Mind", the better known of Jones' compositions made famous by Berha "Chippie" Hill in 1926, was Georgia White's greatest, and most enduring, success. And is not difficult to understand why: you may have listened to an infinity of versions of this classic, but Georgia's melancholy, world-weary vocal approach over Les Paul and R.M. Jones delicate guitar-piano dialogue belongs in the Twentieth Century Music (any Music!) Hall Of Fame, if there is one.

Lea Gilmore
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Georgia White

©1999 Lea A. Gilmore and P.W. Fenton, All Rights Reserved.