Interview with African-American trailblazing trumpeter, Jewitt White.

Mus3c Jewitt Lorenzo White, Sr.

Jewitt Lorenzo White Sr., born on March 6, 1921 in Paris, Texas, was the oldest of four boys born to Viara and Luther White. He began his music studies in Gary, Indiana.  

Jewitt’s Conn trumpet and case that accompanied him during his enlistment in the U.S. Navy


After Jewitt’s parents purchased a Conn trumpet for him, he eventually won first chair in the Roosevelt High School band.  He also went on to play trumpet in the band at A&T University (North Carolina) during his undergraduate studies. During WWII, he won a billet in the groundbreaking “B-1 Band” which was the first band in the U.S. Navy comprised of African Americans to serve in a rank higher than messman.  

In addition to his other duties while serving in Hawaii from 1942-1944, Jewitt was tasked to play Taps and Reveille on bugle for the Manana Barracks military base.

After the war, Jewitt supplemented his income by continuing to play trumpet with entertainment bands in the evenings (after teaching school during the day). And he continued to play while he worked on his master’s degree at Iowa State University and his doctorate degree at Penn State University, so that he could earn additional income for his family: his wife, Mae Foneville (Mitchell) White; his son, Jewitt L. White Jr.; his two daughters, Ramone White (Woodard), and Mae Rosalind White.

Interview with Jewitt White, African-American trumpeter who played in WWII band, overcoming racial barrier to higher ratings in US Navy

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis


 

SC: Mr White, this is really an honor for me to chat with such a groundbreaking WWII veteran. How did you get interested in music?

JW: My mother’s brothers were in a high school band. The older brother played tuba and the younger played trumpet. This youngest brother began to teach me how to play trumpet at age 9, teaching me all the scales. Later, he would take me to his high school jazz band rehearsals and encouraged me to play with them.

By the time I was in high school, which was Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana, I was playing first chair in the band.

After high school, I went to North Carolina, to attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Not only did I study agriculture there, but I played in the band every year.

I also played for weddings and parties while I was a student. These gigs payed really good—sometimes as much as $12-14 dollars for the evening! That was a lot of money back then!

I also met my future wife while I was a student at A&T. Her name was Mae Foneville Mitchell. Her father did not want us to date, because she was so young. She was a very young college student, having started college at age 15. Eventually, with WWII looming over us, we decided to elope.

 

SC: Who were your early musical influences and teachers?

JW: I loved to listen to Louis Armstrong.  I also liked Walter Carlson’s playing a lot. He was a member of the B1 Band and later became the band instructor at A&T.

 

SC: Tell me about how you enlisted in the Navy?

JW: I was walking on campus, and I ran into my band director talking to a recruiter for the Navy. This recruiter was retired but he wore his uniform, which had stripes all the way up his arm. I was very impressed. He asked me to come play for him at the band room later that day. So, I came and played. After he listened to me, he told me, “Okay. I think you’ll be just fine!” That’s how I joined the B-1 Band.

 

B-1 Band in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

SC: What were some of your most memorable performances as a member of the B1 Band?

JW: Sometimes in band I would play lead, but sometimes I would play solos. We had dozens of tunes in our book, but my favorite piece to play was “Stardust.” I enjoyed soloing on that tune!

 

Mus3c Jewitt White playing bugle calls

SC: What was it like being a part of the B1 Band?

JW: They didn’t let us stay in the normal barracks, because we weren’t allowed.

Every morning, I would play reveille, and every evening I would play Taps. This was noteworthy, since it was the first time, to my knowledge, that an African American was given the duty or even the opportunity to play these bugle calls.

 

 

Pre-flight Dinner in Chapel Hill, NC, before B-1 Band deployed to Hawaii. Seated on far left, Mus3c Jewitt White and his wife, Mae Foneville (Mitchell) White

SC: Did you stay in North Carolina for the whole war?

 

JW: No. They shipped us off to Hawaii.

 

 

SC: What did you do after the war? Did you continue with music?

JW: After the war, I went back to school to get my master’s degree at Iowa State in education and agriculture. I also nearly finished my Ph.D. in science at Penn State. And during all this time I played dances to earn additional income. I got a job in Clinton, North Carolina teaching. Then I was appointed professor at West Virginia State, teaching science. Finally, in Gary, Indiana, I was a teacher trainer and then director of vocational education at the Gary, Indiana Tech and Vocational School. I retired in the 1980s.

 

SC: Because I am doing this interview for trumpeters, I always like to talk about equipment. What trumpet or cornet equipment did you play when you were playing with the B1 band?

JW: My trumpet was a Conn, which my parents purchased for me when I was in high school. The trumpet is still in my family. I loaned it to one of my granddaughters who played it when she was a member of her high school band in the early 1990s. The trumpet is still in great shape and is kept in its original case. It is in the possession of my oldest granddaughter, Jacqueline Woodard who lives in Maryland and works for the government in Washington, DC.

 

Jewitt (center, age 96 at time of interview) with two daughters, Mae Rosalind White (left) and Ramone (White) Woodard (right)

SC: Do you have any advice for the younger generation of trumpeters?

Do the best you can. All the time!

 

 

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Happy birthday, and the importance of Story, Song and Support

It all started three years ago with a little post about, well, starting this website. And now Trumpet Journey has grown to more than 90 published posts about all kinds of trumpet-related things. There have been many interviews, but also “Top Ten Lists.” There have been posts about jazz, renaissance and baroque music, orchestral playing, the jobs market, and even language learning. 

Of the 117,000 people who have visited Trumpet Journey, I am really happy to receive the occasional comment or question. Especially from places like The Netherlands or Italy. Or even India! (sorry, India, I haven’t gotten around to answering you, yet). 

15th-century manuscript with a bearded figure blowing a trumpet

15th-century manuscript with a bearded figure blowing a trumpet

I haven’t posted much of my own writing in a while, because I have been doing so many interviews. So, I’d like to shake off the dust and talk about the three “S”s. These are what I think are the three key elements that each great trumpet player has: Story, Song, and Support

Each of us has a unique story. That story may be an actual account of some event, or even the story of our life. But we also have our own stories that we keep coming back to, such as “beauty is great,” or “old things are cool” or “technology is what I’m about.” These are our thematic points that our choices point to. Choices about repertoire, style, equipment, venues, and even the clothes we wear when we perform can help create our own story and the story that each generation needs to hear. Many players perform to a story that is going on inside their heads. As listeners, we can sense that something dramatic is happening. 

Trumpeters like Jean-Francois Madeuf, Doc Severinson, and Philip Smith seem to have a really strong story. Their playing seems to spring effortlessly from their personal story. 

Authenticity (played on an authentic natural baroque trumpet–very rarely heard):

Showmanship–notice how Doc adjusts his story to suit the Lawrence Welk Show audience:

And this story telling in the orchestral realm. I remember hearing Philip Smith talking about the way he thought about this opening excerpt from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. He said he pictured Death (as the shrouded skeleton) reaching out from a dark fog. Closer and closer he comes, until you see his grotesqueness clearly. Sound quality is not quite perfect in this example.

 

Then there is the song. This is how we play what we play. This song can be sung with heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism, laser-beam clarity, or rhetorical interpretation. This is our personal song we sing on the trumpet when we play. Each of our voices are different–and they should be. Our song is the meeting place of our phrasing, our interpretation, our experience and, of course, our tone. I learned a beautiful lesson about tone from a former colleague of mine, the great euphonium player named Roger Behrend. He said it helps him to think about tone in terms of color, texture and taste. So, for instance, if you are thinking about maroon, velvet and chocolate, you get an especially luxurious sound. Or, perhaps you’re thinking golden, rough and with the taste of jambalaya, like I do, when I hear this trumpeter:

Trumpeters that have a great sense of song are many, but for me, some of the most astounding “trumpet singers” have been, besides Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Maurice André. 

I found this unusual example of Maurice André playing the Hindemith “Trumpet Sonate.” While this is not normal repertoire for André, nor is it a standard interpretation of the renowned German composer’s piece, it so well shows André’s glowing song-making style.

 

But to keep the song going, which keeps the story fresh, we all need the support of our technique, our fundamentals, our use of air, and our “chops.” For most of us, this comes down to consistent, mindful practice over many years. We are also looking for the right equipment to help us get there. Equipment and practice routines seem to be the subjects of most the trumpet chatter out there on the web and in studios. We all want to be able to play better, faster and higher. I know I do. But I think we all understand the limitations of mouthpieces, technique and high notes without a great singing style. Or without a musical story to tell. Let’s let support be what it is: help for a greater cause. Nevertheless, there are some great examples of technique and equipment.

Wynton Marsalis’ amazing technique and unique equipment do not get in the way of his song or story.

Malcolm McNab is a paragon of fundamentals, and he spins them into the most amazing recordings.

And, or course, there are the high note players like Arturo Sandoval and the late, great Maynard Ferguson. 

Talk about support!!! 

I think all of these examples show exceptional Story, Song and Support, and hopefully will give us some inspiration to communicate with our audiences, too.

In a very meaningful way, Trumpet Journey has been one of my trumpet stories that I have been able to tell over the last three years. 

 

 

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