Sixty years ago, when Joshua Daniel White released his topmost seminal record, Josh at Midnight, he was already an artist of many firsts. Born a black man in the American South in the early 20th century, White was seen as a trailblazer in many aspects, spreading awareness through his master-grade folk-blues stylings while introducing the prospect of race records to a mainstream, white audience. To this day, White remains thoroughly respected and revered in equal parts as one of the first modern artists to ever speak out against shoddy social constructs in an attempt to prod at the overarching societal conscience and actually succeeding at doing so. His music, even at its most barebones level, influenced and helped to construct the build of many other future folk stars’ catalogues, from Nat “King” Cole, to Bob Dylan, to Jack White and beyond.
Being the first African American soloist to ever travel across the States on a music tour, the first to perform in once segregated hotels, and even the first to sell one million records with Josh at Midnight single “One Meatball” back in 1944, one can rest assured that this album, at a baseline level, was one of great, pure roots music. White’s innovative musical soul, which he had invoked firmly into his folk and blues sets as duly as a masterclass artist ever could, from his versatile vocals to his virtuoso level of picking at his acoustic guitar, and to the pure genius of his songwriting, was the vehicle upon which he was able to drive home a variety of points regarding the systematic oppression which strikes black communities across the world even to this day.
With an influence so strong that he would start a social movement in folk ranging well beyond color or creed against establishment thinking that affected even the way that the President of the United States would think over military policies segregating his armed forces, White most certainly was a trailblazer to the point that it almost feels like an understatement to label him as just that. Either way, what is certain is that the innovation and love put into the craft of Josh at Midnight between White and Jac Holzman remains fresh, even from merely a musical output, to this very day. It converges White’s affinity for blues, folk, country, and gospel all into one as he reenergizes and renovates such songs as previously written and performed by the likes of Elvis Presley and George Martin Lane into tunes that came across as more culturally relevant.
Ultimately set for a reissue in a joint effort between Elektra Records’ Holzman and Dolph Ramseur and company at Ramseur Records, this vinyl-exclusive release captures the captivating nature of White’s original performance and delivers it just as well as its initial pressing. For those whose curiosity has been peaked, who wish to traverse further into understanding the musical makings of one of pop culture’s most historically influential black men, or for those who simply want to bask in some of the best, most respected versions of some of their favorite folk and blues songs (“St. James Infirmary”, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”), then Joshua at Midnight is definitely your record.
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