Born July 3, 1929, in Jackson, Miss., and raised largely in Amite City, La., Miss Lavelle White arrived in Texas as a teenager in Houston, where she began a long career as a nightclub singer. In Houston, she played venues such as Club Matinee, opening for Little Richard, among others, and caught on with performers such as Clarence and Sweets Hollimon and Johnny Copeland, who connected her with Don Robey of Duke/Peacock.
It wasn’t until White hit retirement age, a few years after she’d moved to Austin, that her first full album got released. Blues guitar master Derek O’Brien produced her self-titled debut for Antone’s Records in 1994, as well as 1997’s "It Haven’t Been Easy" and 2003’s "Into the Mystic." The records featured many songs that White wrote or co-wrote, including "Lead Me On," an R&B hit for blues great Bobby "Blue" Bland in 1960.
With "Into the Mystic," she also put her stamp on classics by Stevie Wonder ("Livin’ for the City") and Van Morrison (the title track). And she tackled Merle Haggard’s "Today I Started Loving You Again," which isn’t as much of a surprise as it might seem on the surface.
"I take country songs and turn them around into soul music," she explains. "I think that’s the greatest song that Merle ever did. He was a great artist, and Derek O’Brien insisted that I do it."
White’s willingness to disregard genre boundaries is part of what makes her such a good fit for Austin, a city long known for artists who mash up musical styles into unclassifiable new creations. "Oh, yeah," she says. "This is what I learned about Austin. It’s mixed with country, blues, jazz, funk, soul, rap — it’s a city that really accepts their artists. And I’m so happy for that."
Read more about Miss Lavelle White, our Austin360 Artist of the Month, on our premium website, Mystatesman.com. You can watch a video, too, that offers a taste of White performing, which she’ll do Sunday, July 9, as part of Antone’s anniversary month and to celebrate her recent birthday.