Early Gospel Singers – W

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To help with further browsing click on the large ‘Initial’ to return to the Early Gospel Singers Introduction, or click another initial to take you to details of more early gospel singers.

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Name: Dock Walsh
Location: North Carolina
Born: 1901
Died: 1967
Biography Synopsis: Doctor Coble Walsh, better known as Doc/Dock Walsh, was an American banjoist, and bandleader of The Carolina Tar Heels. He formed that group with Clarence Ashley in 1925, followed by the addition of Gwen Foster. Walsh is known as the “Banjo King of the Carolinas”. He played in a clawhammer style, but was one of the first to record the three-finger style. He also invented a method of playing with pennies under the bridge and the strings played with a knife, similar to bottle neck guitar style.

Source: Wikipedia

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Most popular song(s): Bathe In That Beautiful Pool
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Name: Ward Singers
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Name: Rev. I. B. Ware (with wife & son)
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Name: Louis Washington
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Name: Rev. Webb
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Name: Rev. T. E. Weems
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Name: Rev. Charles White
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Name: Joshua White
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Name: Washington White
Aka: Pseudonym for Bukka White
Born: November 12, 1906
Died: February 26, 1977
Biography Synopsis: Booker T. (Taliaferro) Washington “Bukka” White was an African-American Delta blues guitarist and singer. Bukka is a phonetic spelling of White’s first name; he was named after the well-known African-American educator and civil rights activist Booker T. Washington.

White was born south of Houston, Mississippi. He was a first cousin of B.B. King’s mother (White’s mother and King’s grandmother were sisters). He played National resonator guitars, typically with a slide, in an open tuning. He was one of the few, along with Skip James, to use a crossnote tuning in E minor, which he may have learned, as James did, from Henry Stuckey. He also played piano, but less adeptly.

White started his career playing the fiddle at square dances. He claimed to have met Charlie Patton soon after, but some have doubted this recollection. Nonetheless, Patton was a strong influence on White. “I wants to come to be a great man like Charlie Patton”, White told his friends.

He first recorded for Victor Records in 1930. His recordings for Victor, like those of many other bluesmen, included country blues and gospel music. Victor published his photograph in 1930. His gospel songs were done in the style of Blind Willie Johnson, with a female singer accentuating the last phrase of each line. From fourteen recordings, Victor released two records under the name Washington White, two gospel songs with Memphis Minnie on backing vocals and two country blues.

Nine years later, while serving time for assault, he recorded for the folklorist John Lomax. The few songs he recorded around this time became his most well known: “Shake ‘Em On Down,” and “Po’ Boy.” His 1937 version of the oft-recorded song “Shake ‘Em on Down,” is considered definitive; it became a hit while White was serving time in Mississippi State Penitentiary, commonly known as Parchman Farm. He wrote about his experience there in “Parchman Farm Blues”, which was released in 1940.

Bob Dylan covered his song “Fixin’ to Die Blues”, which aided a “rediscovery” of White in 1963 by guitarist John Fahey and Ed Denson, which propelled him into the folk revival of the 1960s. White had recorded the song simply because his other songs had not particularly impressed the Victor record producer. It was a studio composition of which White had thought little until it re-emerged thirty years later.

Fahey and Denson found White easily enough: Fahey wrote a letter to White and addressed it to “Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi”—presuming, given White’s song “Aberdeen, Mississippi”, that White still lived there or nearby. The postcard was forwarded to Memphis, Tennessee, where White worked in a tank factory. Fahey and Denson soon traveled there to meet him, and White and Fahey remained friends for the rest of White’s life. He recorded a new album for Denson and Fahey’s Takoma Records, and Denson became his manager. White was at one time also managed by Arne Brogger, an experienced manager of blues musicians.

Later in his life, White was friends with the musician Furry Lewis. The two were recorded (mostly in Lewis’s Memphis apartment) by Bob West for an album, Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party! At Home released on the Arcola label.

White died of cancer in February 1977, at the age of 67 or 70, in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1990 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame (along with Blind Blake and Lonnie Johnson).

On November 21, 2011, the Recording Academy announced the addition of “Fixin’ to Die Blues” to its 2012 list of Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipients.

Source: Wikipedia

Recording career: 1930 – 1940
Most popular song(s): Blues:  “Shake ‘Em On Down, “Po’ Boy”, “Parchman Farm Blues”.

Gospel: “The Promise True and Grand”, “I Am In THe Heavenly Way”.

Musical Influences: His gospel songs were done in the style of Blind Willie Johnson, with a female singer accentuating the last phrase of each line.
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Name: Rev. Robert Wilkins
Location: Memphis and north MIssissippi
Born: January 16, 1896
Died: May 26, 1987
Biography Synopsis: Robert Timothy Wilkins was an American country blues guitarist and vocalist, of African-American and Cherokee descent. His distinction was his versatility: he could play ragtime, blues, minstrel songs, and gospel music with equal facility.

Wilkins was born in Hernando, Mississippi, 21 miles from Memphis. He performed in Memphis and north Mississippi during the 1920s and early 1930s, the same time as Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie (whom he claimed to have tutored), and Son House. He also organized a jug band to capitalize on the “jug band craze” then in vogue. Though never attaining success comparable to that of the Memphis Jug Band, Wilkins reinforced his local popularity with a 1927 appearance on a Memphis radio station. From 1928 to 1936 he recorded for Victor and Brunswick Records, alone or with a single accompanist, like Sleepy John Estes, and unlike Gus Cannon of Cannon’s Jug Stompers. He sometimes performed as Tom Wilkins or as Tim Oliver (his stepfather’s name).

In 1936, at the age of 40, he quit playing the blues and joined the church after witnessing a murder where he performed. In 1950 he was ordained. In 1964 Wilkins was “rediscovered” by blues revival enthusiasts Dick and Louisa Spottswood, making appearances at folk festivals and recording his gospel blues for a new audience. These include the 1964 Newport Folk Festival; his performance of “Prodigal Son” there was included on the Vanguard Records album Blues at Newport, Volume 2. In 1964 he also recorded his first full album, Rev. Robert Wilkins: Memphis Gospel Singer, for Piedmont Records. Another full session, recorded live at the 1969 Memphis Country Blues Festival, was released in 1993 as “…Remember Me”.

Wilkins died on May 26, 1987, in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 91. His son, Reverend John Wilkins, continues his father’s gospel blues legacy **.

His best-known songs are “That’s No Way to Get Along” and his reworked gospel version, “The Prodigal Son” (which was covered under that title by the Rolling Stones), “Rolling Stone”, and “Old Jim Canan’s”. The Stones were forced to credit “The Prodigal Son” to Wilkins after lawyers approached the band and asked for the credit to be changed. Early pressings of Beggars Banquet credited only Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as composers, not Wilkins.

Source: Wikipedia

**  See also my interview with Rev. John Wilkins on www.earlyblues.com

Recording career: 1928 – 1964
Most popular song(s): “That’s No Way to Get Along” / “The Prodigal Son”
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Name: Brother Williams Memphis Sanctified Singers
Location: Memphis, TN
Biography Synopsis: Brother Williams’ Memphis Sanctified Singers only professionally recorded two sides in 1930. Other than Brother Williams leading the song with (possibly) Bessie Johnson and Melinda Taylor and possibly Will Shade on guitar the group is made up unknown members of Brother Williams’ church.
Recording career: 1928 – 1930
Most popular song(s): Two recorded songs:

“He’s Got The Whole world In His Hands” and “I Will Meet you At The Station”.

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Name: Rev. P. M. Williams
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Name: Deacon A. Wilson
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Recording career: 1926
Most popular song(s): You Need Jesus On Your Side

Certainly Lord

References / links: Discography of American Historical Recordings
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Name: Da Costa Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters
Biography Synopsis: DaCosta Woltz was an American old time banjo player from Galax, Virginia. His band, DaCosta Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters played Appalachian old-time string band and square dance music and recorded in the late 1920s. Ben Jarrell, of Surrey County, North Carolina, and father of influential fiddle and banjo musician Tommy Jarrell, played with the Southern Broadcasters. DaCosta Woltz was a promoter of patent medicine, the mayor of Galax, and a first-rate banjo player.

Source: Wikipedia

In 1927, Da Costa Woltz — mayor of Galax, VA, and a promoter of patent medicines — got together a string band of local musicians for a three-day recording session in Richmond, IN. Billing themselves somewhat cumbersomely as Da Costa Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters, the group featured Frank Jenkins on banjo and sometimes fiddle, Woltz on second banjo, Ben Jarrell on fiddle, and a 12-year-old Price Goodson on ukulele and harmonica; the young Goodson presumably functioned as much as a novelty and gimmick as a musician, performing on only three of the sides. Of the 18 pieces recorded, only one actually included the entire ensemble: the remaining tracks featured members of the group broken down into solos, duets, and trios. Such variation of personnel amounted to a fair degree of diversity within the overall output, offering a mix of instrumental music and old-time Southern melodies (mostly sentimental ditties along the lines of “Take Me Back to the Sweet Sunny South”). The recording session particularly served as a vehicle for Jenkins’ precise, quick-trickling banjo playing and for Jarrell’s raspy fiddling and vocals, perhaps the most unifying element of the sides.

Despite the group’s name, the Southern Broadcasters never actually ventured into radio broadcasting , nor did they, despite their abilities on the 18 tracks cut in Richmond, return to the recording studio. Of the group, only Jenkins recorded again, joined in 1929 by his son Oscar and the prolific Ernest Stoneman under the name of Frank Jenkins’ Pilot Mountaineers. The musical legacy of the Broadcasters did at least survive, meanwhile, through the bloodlines of some of the original outfit’s members: More than three decades after the Pilot Mountaineers session, banjoist Oscar Jenkins returned to recording in the 1960s and ’70s, while Jarrell’s son Tommy was one of the most emulated fiddlers of that era’s old-time revival.

Source: AllMusic.com

Recording career: 1927 for Gennett and related labels
Most popular song(s): Gospel: “Are you Washed in the Blood of the Lamb”
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Name: Rev. S. J. “Steamboat Bill” Worell
Location: Harlem, NY
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Source: DOCD 5406 LIner Notes

Recording career: 1926 – 1927
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Name: Rev. B. L. Wrightman
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To help with further browsing click on the large ‘Initial’ to return to the Early Gospel Singers Introduction, or click another initial to take you to details of more early gospel singers.

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Please Note:

As this is a continuously developing website, several entries only give the names with no biographical details. Please be patient as these entries are included for completeness, indicating the details are ‘coming soon’ and will be added when time allows.

If there are any early (pre war) gospel singers missing from the lists that you think should be included, please email the details to alan.white@earlygospel.com. Thank you in advance for your assistance.