Uncle Jessie White - Portrait of a Delta Bluesman in Detroit tells the story of the late blues musician Jessie White - the story of a humble but charismatic musician who was born on a sharecropper farm in Terri, Mississippi in 1920. He began to play the blues at a young age, moved to Jackson Mississippi in 1939 to work in illegal whiskey and gambling houses.
Uncle Jessie eventually joined the great northern migration and in 1950 settled in Detroit. There he raised a family and established himself as a wildly popular and respected blues piano player. His kindness, humor and generosity touched anyone who came in contact with him. Out of fondness and respect, he became known as Uncle Jessie. Interwoven into this narrative are testimonials of musicians and blues experts who tell of his historical precedents and the impact that he has had on several generations of Detroit musicians.
We took Uncle Jessie White back to his hometown of Terry, Mississippi
While we were there, we visited the graveyard where his family was buried. We spent the day looking for the graves as there wasn't any headstones.
We also visited the railyard where he worked for the Works Progress Administration during the war. He cut and hauled lumber for ships and built roads. Here is more of the WPA history.
Roosevelts Work Progress Administration
While we were sitting at the rail yard where Jessie had worked as a youth, he spoke of black people not being allowed in downtown Terry during the week. If they were caught in town, they would either be dragged behind the sheriff's horse, or hung near the tracks. As Jessie was describing what he saw, a woman ran out of the yard house and appeared very upset. She told us to quit talking about that because they didn't want any trouble and things weren't like that anymore - she then ran back into the railhouse. We walked to the track to continue our shoot.
Jessie loved telling us about stories of ghosts when he was growing up:
We visited the University of Mississippi and spoke to Dr. Peter Aschoff a Blues Historian. We later visited the Delta Blues Museum for some other factfinding. You can see all of that in the documentary!
Uncle Jessie was very popular and played in many places in the metro Detroit area, as well as Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Monroe and Southfield and even as far as Dresden, Germany!
Here's Uncle Jessie & the 29th Street Blues Band playing - 'All Over The World'
Uncle Jessie White & the 29th Street Blues Band - All Over The World
Here is Uncle Jessie and the band playing - 'Bad Luck Child'
Uncle Jessie White & the 29th Street Blues Band - Bad Luck Child
Here is Uncle Jessie and the band playing - 'Hardtime Blues'
Uncle Jessie White & the 29th Street Blues Band - Hardtime Blues
Many writers, reporters and photographers have written about Uncle Jessie