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White, Benjamin Franklin

(b nr Spartanburg, SC, 20 Sept 1800; dAtlanta, GA, 5 Dec 1879). American singing- school teacher, composer and tune book compiler (seeShape-note hymnody, §2). A self-taught musician, he wrote three-part tunes using four-shape notation. In collaboration with Elisha J. King he published The Sacred Harp ([Hamilton, GA] Philadelphia, 1844, 3/1859/R, 4/1869), one of the most significant shape-note tune books of the pre-Civil War South and the longest-lived tune book in four-shape notation. Several editions were produced in White's lifetime, and the book is still used, in a number of revised versions, at singing conventions in the South and has also spread to other areas. His brother-in-law was William Walker, whose Southern Harmony (1835) and Christian Harmony (1867) were the chief rivals of The Sacred Harp.


G.P. Jackson: ‘Benjamin Franklin White of Georgia and his Associates’, White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands (Chapel Hill, NC, 1933/R), 81–93

B.E. Cobb: The Sacred Harp: a Tradition and its Music (Athens, GA, 1978, 2/1989)


White, Charles A(lbert)

(b Taunton, MA, 20 March 1829; d Boston, 13 Jan 1892). American composer and publisher. In 1868 he, W. Frank Smith and John F. Perry formed the publishing house of White, Smith & Perry; the next year they began to issue The Folio, an important monthly music periodical. After Perry withdrew in 1872 the firm became White-Smith & Co.; Smith died in 1891 and White became sole owner. White’s son and grandson managed the company until 1942, when its holdings were transferred to Edward H. Morris & Co. (which was absorbed in turn by MPL Communications in 1976).

The firm’s success was largely attributable to White’s over 1000 compositions. His greatest success, Marguerite (1883), sold over one million copies in eight years and was reissued as late as 1945. Though he dabbled in minstrelsy and comedy, White was best in serious genres: simple ‘home songs’ promoting motherhood, temperance, and other virtues (The Poor Drunkard’s Child, 1871); through-composed ‘descriptive songs’ (The Fisherman and his Child, 1879); ‘waltz songs’, often with pictorial cadenzas (birds were a favourite subject) (When ’tis Moonlight, 1875); and ‘romanzas’, with melodramatic texts supported by throbbing triplets and fervid melodies (Marguerite). Although White wrote in all four genres through most of his career, many of the ‘home songs’ date from the 1870s; these overlapped the ‘waltz songs’ of 1875–85, which in turn gave way to the ‘romanzas’ of the 1880s. A prudent businessman and a versatile, industrious composer, White was one of the most successful and influential songwriters of his generation.


(selective list)

all 1v, pf, and published in Boston; texts by White unless otherwise stated

No tongue can tell (1869); Put me in my little bed (D. Smith), (1869); Come, birdie, come (C.A. White), (1870); Moonlight on the Lake (White), (1870); O Restless Sea (1871); The Poor Drunkard’s Child (1871); That Little Church around the Corner (Smith), (1871); I’ve gathered them in (1873); Mother’s with the angels there (Smith), (1873); I’se gwine back to Dixie (White), (1875); When ’tis Moonlight (1875); The Fisherman and his Child (White), (1879); Song of the Whippoorwill (White), (1879); When the Leaves Begin to Turn (White), (1879); A Bird from o’er the Sea (1880); The Huntsman’s Horn (1881); Marguerite (White), (1883); When the Blue Birds Build Again (1884); Evelena (White), (1889); Come, silver moon (1890); Only Tired (1890)


Obituaries, Boston Globe (14 Jan 1892); The Folio, xxxvii/2 (1892), 43

S. Spaeth: A History of Popular Music in America (New York, 1948)

C.M. Ayars: Contributions to the Art of Music in America by the Music Industries of Boston 1640 to 1936 (New York, 1957/R)

H.E. Johnson: ‘The Folio of White, Smith and Company’, American Music, ii/1 (1984), 88–104


White, Clarence Cameron

(b Clarksville, TN, 10 Aug 1880; d New York, 30 June 1960). American composer and violinist. He studied the violin from an early age and as a teenager composed works inspired by his acquaintance with Joseph Douglass and Will Marion Cook. He later studied at the Oberlin Conservatory (1896–1901), but left to accept a teaching position in Washington DC, before completing his degree. His first important appointment was at the Washington [DC] Conservatory (1903–7), a pioneering institution for black classical music founded by his friend Harriet Gibbs Marshall. He undertook further studies in Europe (1906, 1908–10) with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Michael Zacharewitsch, and later with Raoul Laparra (1930–32). Considering Boston his primary residence, he toured extensively as a violinist, accompanied by his wife Beatrice Warrick White. From 1922 to 1924 he served as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians, an organization he had helped to found in 1919. He taught at West Virginia State College (1924–30) and was music director of the Hampton Institute, Virginia, until the department closed (1932–5). During the last decade of his life, he lived and worked in New York. His awards include two Rosenwald Fellowships, the Bispham Medal (1932) for his opera Ouanga, a Harmon Foundation award, the Benjamin Award (1955) for his orchestral Elegy, and two honorary degrees.

White’s early works are traditional, exemplified by a restrained set of salon pieces that grew out of his studies with Coleridge-Taylor. His mature compositions demonstrate a neo-Romantic style flavoured with black American folk idioms. He was particularly inspired by African American spirituals, of which he composed several arrangements. Many of his most successful works are for strings and piano, particularly Levee Dance (1927); his operatic works enjoyed concert performances in Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House (1956). His articles appeared in the Negro Music Journal, Music and Poetry, the Musical Observer and The Etude.


(selective list)

Stage: A Night in Sans Souci (ballet), 1929 [arr. vn, pf]; Tambour (incid music, J. Matheus), pf, 1929; Ouanga (op, 3, Matheus), 1932; Carnival Romance (op, ?C.C. White), 1952

Inst: Bandana Sketches, suite, vn, 1918; From the Cotton Fields, suite, vn, 1920; Levee Dance, vn, pf, 1927; Str Qt nos.1–2, 1931; Kutamba Rhapsody, 1942; Conc., g, vn, pf, 1945; Concertino, d, vn, pf, 1952; Elegy, 1954; Fantasie, vc, pf, 1954; Dance Rhapsody, 1955; Légende d’Afrique, vc, pf, 1955; Poème, 1955; Spiritual Suite, 4 cl, 1955; several kbd works

Vocal: Heritage (C. Cullen), S, T, chorus, orch, 1959; songs; many spiritual arrs. incl. 40 Negro Spirituals, 1927; Traditional Negro Spirituals, 1940


MSS in US-Wc, US-NYpsc, US-Whu

Principal publishers: Carl Fischer, Presser


E. Southern: The Music of Black Americans: a History (New York, 1971, 3/1997)

L. Simms: ‘Clarence Cameron White: Violinist, Composer, Teacher’, Negro History Bulletin, xliii (1980), 95–6

V. Edwards and M. Mark: ‘In Retrospect: Clarence Cameron White’, BPM, ix (1981), 51–72

W. Shirley, ed.: ‘Letters of Clarence Cameron White in the Collection of the Music Division of the Library of Congress’, BPM, x (1982), 189–212


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