Booker T. Washington "Bukka" White (November 12, 1909 – February 26, 1977) was an African-American Delta blues guitarist and singer. "Bukka" is a phonetic spelling of White's first name, placed on the labels of his early recordings. He preferred the proper spelling of his name, "Booker," as 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 is remembered as a player of National resonator guitars. He also played piano, but less adeptly. He 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.
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.
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.
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 Parchman.
One of his most famous songs, "Parchman Farm Blues", about the Mississippi State Penitentiary (also known as Parchman Farm) in Sunflower County, Mississippi, was released on Harry Smith's fourth volume of the Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4.
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 "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 traveled to meet White, and White and Fahey remained friends through the remainder of White's life. He recorded a new album for Denson and Fahey's Takoma Records, whilst Denson became his manager. White was at one time also managed by experienced blues manager Arne Brogger.
Later in his life, White was friends with the musician Furry Lewis. The two recorded an album (mostly in Lewis's Memphis apartment), Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party! At Home.
White died of cancer in February 1977, at the age of 67, 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 that "Fixin' to Die Blues" was to be added to its 2012 list of Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipients.
The Led Zeppelin song "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper", on the band's 1970 album Led Zeppelin III, was based in large part on White's "Shake 'Em on Down." "Custard Pie", a song on Led Zeppelin's 1975 album Physical Graffiti, also references "Shake 'Em on Down."
The 1963 recordings of White's song "Shake 'Em on Down" and spoken-word piece "Remembrance of Charlie Patton" were both 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.
In 1995, White's "Aberdeen, Mississippi" was covered as "Aberdeen" by guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd on his debut album, Ledbetter Heights. It reached number 23 on the Billboard (North America) Mainstream Rock Tracks in 1996.
On January 26, 2010, Eric Bibb released Booker's Guitar (TEL 31756 02) through Telarc International Corporation after becoming inspired by the hidden stories Bibb felt through holding White's famous guitar.
White's song "Parchman Farm Blues" was recorded by Jeff Buckley, and was released posthumously on the bonus disc of Buckley's album Grace: Legacy Edition.