Barrence Whitfield

Barrence Whitfield

Soul screamer and R&B tour de force Barrence Whitfield was born Barry White on June 13, 1955 in Jacksonville, Florida and his family moved to East Orange, New Jersey when he was a child. He sang in his church’s choir, vocalized and played drums in rock and funk bands in high school and began his freshman year at Boston University in 1977, majoring in journalism.

While there, he worked at a record shop in Kenmore Square, Nuggets, where a friend of fellow employee, Peter Greenberg (later of Lyres), heard his singing. Soon afterwards, he and Greenberg started a band and Barry White adopted the moniker “Barrence Whitfield” so he wouldn’t be mistaken for the superstar who shared his birth name and whose single “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” went to #1 in 1974 (and who was reportedly born Barry Eugene Carter, though Whitfield has insisted that it was Barrence Eugene Carter).

Barrence Whitfield & The Savages, Debut album, Dig Yourself

And that’s how Barrence Whitfield & The Savages was born. The group gained a huge local following and became known for their explosive live shows. “I stopped drumming because singing is what I really wanted to do,” Whitfield says about fronting the group. His style has been described as being in the same spirit as Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Don Covay and Solomon Burke and he’s won seven Boston Music Awards.

In 1984, Mamou Records released the band’s self-titled debut album, which included mostly cover versions of lesser-known soul and R&B songs, and their sophomore effort, Dig Yourself, came out the following year on Somerville-based Rounder Records. English deejay Andy Keashaw heard it, taped a Boston show for airplay in Britain and arranged for a UK tour, one of the many Whitfield has done since there and in Europe.

Whitfield has played opening slots on U.S. tours with Bo Diddley, Tina Turner, George Thorogood, Robert Cray and Solomon Burke, contributed tracks to Merle Haggard and Don Covay tribute albums and made two records with country singer/songwriter Tom Russell. In 1997, he worked with New Hampshire-based jump blues/rockabilly band The Movers and in 2007 he contributed to the score of the film Honeydripper.

2000s albums, Songs From the Sun Ra Cosmos, Glory

After spending 15 years working on other musical projects, Whitfield reformed The Savages in 2010 and recorded the live album Savage Kings, issued on the Shake It label. While touring Europe following its release, he appeared on BBC’s Jools Holland Show, hosted by the former Squeeze keyboardist and renowned session player.

In 2015, he cut his 13th album, Under the Savage Sky, followed by 2018’s Flowers of Titan, both on Bloodshot Records. Whiltfield’s next disc was Songs from the Sun Ra Cosmos (recorded The Soul Savage Arkestra and released in 2019 by Modern Harmonic), which features idiosyncratic covers of avant-garde compositions by Sun Ra – each one completely reworked by Whitfiled – and was recorded over the course of 20 years. His most recent studio outing is Glory (FOLC Records, 2023).

Asked how he spent his time during Covid-19 shutdowns, he said the situation did not keep him from singing. “Staying away from the crowds, listening to a lot of music, watching great movies and singing all over the place,” he said. “Trying to keep busy until we can go back performing regularly again.”  


  • Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, Mamou, 1984
  • Dig Yourself, Rounder, 1985
  • Call of the Wild EP, UK Demon/Rounder, 1987
  • Ow! Ow! Ow!, Rounder, 1987
  • Live Emulsified, Rounder, 1989
  • Let’s Lose It, France, New Rose, 1990
  • Savage Tracks, France, New Rose, 1992
  • Cowboy Mambo (with Tom Russell), East Side Digital, 1993
  • Hillbilly Voodoo (with Tom Russell), East Side Digital, 1993
  • Ritual of the Savages, Ocean Music, 1995
  • Savage Kings, Munster Records, 2011, rereleased Shake It Records
  • Dig Thy Savage Soul, Bloodshot Records, 2013
  • Under The Savage Sky, Bloodshot Records, 2015
  • Soul Flowers of Titan, Bloodshot Records, 2018
  • Barrence Whitfield and the Soul Savage Arkestra: Songs from the Sun Ra Cosmos, Modern Harmonic, 2019
  • Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, Glory, FOLC Records, 2023

(by A.J. Wachtel)

Published On: December 30, 2012