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Bukka White
Background information
Birth name Booker T. Washington White
Born November 12, 1906(1906-11-12)
between Aberdeen and Houston, Mississippi, United States
Died February 26, 1977 (aged 70)
Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Genres Delta blues, country blues
Occupations Singer, guitarist, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, steel guitar, fiddle, piano
Years active Late 1920s - 1977
Labels Various

Bukka White (November 12, 1906 – February 26, 1977[1]) was a delta blues guitarist and singer. "Bukka" was not a nickname, but a misspelling of White's given name Booker, by his second (1937) record label (Vocalion). White himself disliked the spelling "Bukka" and preferred to be called "Booker".[citation needed]



Born Booker T. Washington White between Aberdeen and Houston, Mississippi, he gave his cousin B.B. King, a Stella guitar, King's first guitar. White himself is remembered as a player of National steel guitars. He also played, but was less adept at, the piano.

White started his career playing the fiddle at square dances. He claims to have met Charlie Patton early on, although some doubt has been cast upon this;[2] Regardless, Patton was a large influence on White. White typically played slide guitar, 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 first recorded for the Victor Records label in 1930. His recordings for Victor, like those of many other bluesmen, fluctuated between country blues and gospel numbers. His gospel songs were done in the style of Blind Willie Johnson, with a female singer accentuating the last phrase of each line.[3]

Nine years later, while serving time, he recorded for folklorist John Lomax. The few songs he recorded around this time became his most well-known: "Shake 'Em On Down," and "Po' Boy."

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 onto the folk revival scene 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.[4]

White was at one time managed by the experienced blues manager, Arne Brogger. Fahey and Denson found White easily enough: Fahey wrote a letter to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." Fahey had assumed, 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 travelled to meet White, and White and Fahey remained friends through the remainder of White's life.[5] He recorded a new album for Denson and Fahey's Takoma Records, whilst Denson became his manager.

White was, later in life, also friends with fellow musician, Furry Lewis. The two recorded, mostly in Lewis' Memphis apartment, an album together, Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party! At Home.

One of his most famous songs, "Parchman Farm Blues", about Mississippi's infamous Parchman Farm state prison, was to be released on Harry Smith's fourth, never realized, volume of the Anthology of American Folk Music. The song was covered by The Traits/aka Roy Head and the Traits with Johnny Winter in the late 1960s. His 1937 version of the oft-recorded song,[6] "Shake 'Em On Down," is considered definitive, and became a hit while White was serving time in Parchman.[7]

White died in February 1977 from cancer, at the age of 70, in Memphis, Tennessee.[1][8] In 1990 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame (along with Blind Blake and Lonnie Johnson).


Memorial marker for Bukka White

White was sampled by electronic artist Recoil (mostly a one-man effort by Alan Wilder of Depeche Mode) for the track, "Electro Blues For Bukka White", on the 1992 album, Bloodline; the song was reworked and re-released on the 2000 EP, "Jezebel".

On January 26, 2010, Eric Bibb released Bookers Guitar (TEL 31756 02) through Telarc International Corporation after becoming inspired by the hidden stories Bibb felt through holding White's infamous guitar.


  1. ^ a b - accessed December 2009
  2. ^ Stephen Calt claims, in his book about Skip James: I'd Rather Be the Devil, that White claimed to know Patton merely because Fahey was a fan of the long dead bluesman.
  3. ^ In the liner notes for American Primitive, Vol. 1, which features White's I am in the Heavenly Way, Fahey states that White "...had no particular interest in religion. Victor went and hired the woman from a local Baptist church for this recording. Trying to imitate Blind Willie Johnson."
  4. ^ I'd Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues by Stephen Calt, p. 243
  5. ^ In his collection of autobiographical sketches, How Bluegrass Music Ruined My Life, John Fahey reminisces about his and White's time catching catfish together. He also remarks that White had, by the time of his rediscovery, largely forgotten how to play guitar, but had become an even more adept lyricist.
  6. ^ Furry Lewis, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Wade Walton, and R. L. Burnside have all recorded version of "Shake 'Em On Down", as have countless others.
  7. ^ Bukka White: Information and Much More from
  8. ^ - accessed December 2009

White's song "Parchman Farm Blues" was recorded by Jeff Buckley, which was released posthumously on the bonus disc of Buckley's album Grace: Legacy Edition.

External links

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