Barrence Whitfield (born Barry White, June 13, 1955) is an American soul and R&B vocalist, best known as the frontman for Barrence Whitfield & the Savages in the 1980s and 1990s.
Life and career
White was born in Jacksonville, Florida. When he was a child, his family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where he began singing in a gospel choir. While attending West Side High School he sang and played drums in rock and funk bands. In 1977 White enrolled at Boston University to study journalism. While in school, he worked in a record shop, where his singing was heard by musician Peter Greenberg of The Lyres. White adopted the stage name Barrence Whitfield to avoid confusion with superstar Barry White and began performing with Greenberg and former members of the Lyres as Barrence Whitfield & the Savages.
The band garnered a strong reputation for explosive stage performances, described as "raucous and rough, in high gear from the moment they hit the stage." Whitfield himself was described as "a soul screamer in the spirit of Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, and early Don Covay." In 1984, the band released their self-titled debut album, mostly comprising cover versions of obscure soul and R&B songs. It received good critical reviews. The following year, they released a second album, Dig Yourself, on Rounder Records. Their music was heard by English radio DJ Andy Kershaw, who taped a Boston performance for airplay in Britain, and brought them to the UK to tour.
Whitfield released a third album, Call of the Wild, in the UK in 1987, featuring a new line-up of his band; an expanded version, retitled Ow! Ow! Ow! was later issued in the US. He toured widely in Europe, and won supporting slots on US tours by artists including Bo Diddley, Tina Turner, George Thorogood, Robert Cray, and Solomon Burke. Back home Whitfield earned seven Boston Music Awards. A live album recorded in 1987–88 was followed by the album Let's Lose It, produced by Jim Dickinson and issued in France.
In the 1990s, Whitfield contributed tracks to Merle Haggard and Don Covay tribute albums, and recorded two albums with country music singer-songwriter Tom Russell. The album Ritual of the Savages was released in 1995. In 1997, he began working with a New Hampshire-based jump blues and rockabilly octet, The Movers. As well as continuing to perform in the UK and Europe, Whitfield has also contributed to film scores, including the 2007 film, Honeydripper.
In December 2010 Barrence and Peter Greenberg (DMZ, Lyres, Customs) were joined by Andy Jody (Gazelles!, Pearlene, Oxford Cotton, Long Gones) and saxophonist Tom Quartulli to perform two live shows and record a new Barrence Whitfield and The Savages record. That album, Dig Thy Savage Soul, was released on Bloodshot Records in September 2013.