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…
It’s Jack Johnson, 1 — Scooter Libby, zero. Senator John McCain delivers some straight talk we can believe in with the announcement this week that he is seeking a presidential pardon for the late Jack Johnson, the nation’s first black heavyweight boxing champion, who he “feels was wronged by a 1913 conviction of violating the Mann Act by having a consensual relationship with a white woman” (read more about the story at AP); STOP SMILING featured Johnson on the cover of our Boxing Issue back in 2005, timing with the release of Ken Burn’s extraordinary documentaryUnforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. The final bell will be rung by President Obama.
Really? What’s McCain’s motivation? I remember an audio piece produced by my friend Kabuika for Vocalo.org in which an eleven year old kid asks Black Journalists if they think McCain is afraid of Black People (after McCain declined an invite to a Conference of Black Journalists in 2008).
Sonji Clay and Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay), circa 1965. Awwwwww. Note his puppy dog gaze…
Here in Chicago (back in the mid-60s), Cassius was flirting with the Black Muslims, superstardom and love (with a local singer named Sonji)…. According to Ali’s one-time doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, “[Ali’s first Wife,] Sonji was a pert, very pretty gal. She had a sister who was even better than her, with an outrageous Anita Ekberg body to go with her face. But she was too much woman for the boy-wonder Clay. He was still looking for a high-school romance. Kissing and petting, going to the movies and eating ice cream.” They were married in 1964, 41 days after they met. By January 1966, they were divorced. In a 2003 Observer Sport Monthly article, Pacheco continues, “As Ali went to the temple, and as his enchantment with [her] waned, Sonji saw the handwriting on the wall. She was in no place to make deals and demands with the Muslim muscle offering a harsher and more ‘permanent’ deal. Sonji split, with some cash, her jewels – and her life”.
But it was a wild (if short) ride for the nightclub singer and the boxer-who-would-be-king.
Below, Sonji Clay’s version of “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face”, a local Chicago cut. It’s a mid-sixties sweetheart of a record arranged by the mighty, mighty James Mack. Swoon….