Hi-Fi White: Foodstamps, Bulldogs, and Hollywood

Wilbur White was a nightclub singer on the South Side of Chicago whose bluesy growl wielded so much power that he was nicknamed Hi-Fi.  He’d been in the clubs since the 1950s, and although I hear he put on a knockout of a show, that never translated into record sales.  Speaking of knockouts, he played bit roles on Sanford & Son and in the boxing-in-prison movie Penitentiary (1979).  In the film, he was cast as the gap-toothed Sweet Pea.  Behind the scenes, the film was so under-budget that White took initiative and collected food stamps from cast and crew, becoming the production’s official caterer.  He fed over one hundred actors and technical staffers for the final week of shooting.   That’s good ol’ Chicago can-do!

here’s a clip of perhaps his signature number, Bulldog.

and here’s the trailer for the film:

NOTE: view the comments on this post for first hand stories and recollections…

About ayanacontreras

i love the transportive powers of sound. i am a radio host/producer, DJ, Sound designer, 45rpm collector, and art lover living in the city of wind. View all posts by ayanacontreras

30 responses to “Hi-Fi White: Foodstamps, Bulldogs, and Hollywood

  • Hi-Fi White: Foodstamps, Bulldogs, and Hollywood Video

    […] White: Foodstamps, Bulldogs, and Hollywood Collected by ayanacontreras 2 days ago from darkjive.wordpress.com // Event.onDOMReady(function() { // sizeText($(‘video_title’), 475); // }) collect this […]

  • angie

    that’s crazy. good song. thank u

  • jamaa fanaka

    Hi Fi White was not only a great performer but a great friend. He not only fed the cast and crew the last 3 days of shooting my movie, PENITENTIARY, but whenever I wanted quiet on the set, Hi Fi would, without a bullhorn, yell so loud that quiet came instantly.By the way, PENITENTIARY went on to become the most successful independent movie of 1979/80. Thanks for the salute to my late friend, Hi Fi White._____Jamaa Fanaka

  • ayanacontreras

    Thank you for this insight, Mr. Fanaka. Funny… I bet Hi-Fi hardly EVER needed a bullhorn.

  • nick

    please please please the person that posted this page please let me know if they are willing to share te song played”bulldog” by wilbur hi-fi”white. please i would greatly appreciate it. even if you are not willing can you at least be kind enough to tell me where i might be able to get my own copy. thank you kindly.

  • nick

    again thanx. lol. i just am going nuts over this song

  • nick

    thank u sooo much. i appreciate it. take care

  • Donnesha

    wilbur hi-fi white was my great uncle. And if feels sooooo good .. 2 b able 2 jus google his name.. And find that there still people out there . That were and still are touched by him in 1 way or another. He was the life of the party!!!! . And thanks 4 helpin me and my family keep his memory alive…. HIS BROTHERS GRANDDAUGHTER:):):)

    • ayanacontreras

      very cool! Thanks for your comment. Your great-uncle had a voice that touched so many. As a DJ, I can tell you his records can still shake up a lounge (especially “Bulldog”).

    • K Bryant

      I met him as a teenager, when he hosted a talent showcase my group was in at the Libra Ballroom Decatur GA. Very Funny and Cool.

    • Tina Walker

      Donnesha, I know this post is about 10 years old, I am hoping you an help me. Hi-fi was related to my aunt Lena White who had a son named Leon Hart and a sister named Alberta who had a son two sons, one my grandfather named Otto Moore. I am researching my family tree and having a hard time locating family. Hoping you can help

    • Kimberly Wilborn

      Hi! That is so awesome. My name is Kimberly Wilborn and I am the granddaughter of Sandy Wilborn, the producer of this record.

      Further down on this thread is someone trying to get in contact with a family member of Wilbur HiFi to provide a headstone on his grave. The thread was posted on Feb 11,2019.

  • Andy stavrinou

    hi what is the name of the song wilbur is dancing to as sweet pea’ in penitentiary,and also what did he pass away from.

  • Super Mauryo Bros.

    i grew up on Chgo.s south side in the 60’s, and I can vividly remember every Halloween someone would say they were going to the Sissy’s Ball (havnt heard that word in 40 years. and they always said it would be hosted my Hi-Fi- White and Pigmeat Martin whoever that was??? haha.

  • frank adam brenner

    Cool piece man! Nice to know people are documenting great Chicago funk artists!

    • ayanacontreras

      Hi Frank. Glad you found the site. Hi-Fi White was reputedly larger than life, but never got the fame he deserved. A lot of the Chicago artists and recordings featured on Darkjive are the same way… so I’ve set out to help change that. Spread the word and Jive on!

  • NoHater

    Thank you for your site, found via GOOGLE. I remember in the early ’70s while just arriving in Chicago, I frequented many of the exciting lounges and shows in the area. I never forget seeing my first show where the great Hi-Fi was MC-ing a show presenting Tyrone Davis! Hi-Fi had a striking white Afro wig on and a dazzling stage jumpsuit! Needless to say, it was a great great time and yes, Hi-Fi didnt need a mic when technical problems arose. I saw him at two other shows after that. In later years, I read that he had married his chitlin circuit buddy, Miss LaWanda Page (AUNT ESTHER ON SANFORD AND SON). Is this true?

    • ayanacontreras

      Hi, NoHater. According to a 1981 article in Jet Magazine, LaWanda denied plans to marry Hi-Fi White. Hi-Fi apparently guested on Sanford and Son, by the way. He escorted her to the premier of the film Penitentiary (that he was featured in). An image accompanied the article in which the two are seen “cuddling”. Though they were frequently seen together, Ms. Page said they were “just friends”.

  • Joe McDuffie

    I met Hi Fi in LA back in the 70s. He was a close friend of my buddy George Caston. We would go to the clubs in LA when I would fly out from NY. Hi Fi and LaWanda Paige were friends, NOT lovers! They were both comedians and dear friends who had professional mutual respect for each other. I still remember the night we had such fun at the Parisian Room–with Miss Carmen McRae performing! Great memories of a great guy!

  • Steven A Salter

    Wilbert “HiFi” White is lying in an unmarked grave at Washington Memory cemetery in Homewood, IL. He is in a double grave and we the Killer Blues Headstone Project are looking for a family member that can give us permission to place a headstone for him.

  • Drew

    Too sweet was his name not sweet pea and the gap tooth guy name was half dead I saw that movie at the MET theater 46th King Dr. Chicago along with every other Blax movie

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