Born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1939, and educated at schools in Staffordshire and North Wales, John White is a graduate of the University of Manchester, the University of Michigan, and the University of Hull – where he received a PhD in 1975. He is now Emeritus Reader in American History at Hull University. His academic interests and publications were in the areas of African-American and Southern History, and he was a Visiting Professor at several American universities. His publications included Black Leadership in America, now in its third edition, Reconstruction after the American Civil War, and Martin Luther King Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement in America.
His conversion to jazz (age 10) came after (repeatedly) playing a 78rpm record of Harry James’ version of "Trumpet Blues and Cantabile" on a wind-up gramophone. At the University of Hull he had a 20-year jazz-based friendship with its poet/librarian Philip Larkin. With the late Richard Palmer, he co-edited Reference Back: Philip Larkin’s Uncollected Jazz Writings 1940-1984 (now revised as Larkin: Jazz Writings: Essays & Reviews 1940-84), and with Trevor Tolley produced the 4CD set Larkin’s Jazz (Proper Records, 2010). His other jazz writings include biographies of Billie Holiday (1987) and Artie Shaw (1998, 2004). His essay “Kansas City, Pendergast and All That Jazz” won the Arthur Miller American Studies Prize in 1992. He is currently Jazz Consultant to The Philip Larkin Society, and has published several articles on Larkin’s jazz tastes in About Larkin: Journal of The Philip Larkin Society, and also in Jazz Journal. His own tastes in jazz are (fairly) eclectic and include: Armstrong, Basie, Ellington, Peterson, Garner, Tatum, Terry Gibbs, Sonny Criss, Paul Desmond, Lester Young, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Paul Gonsalves, Clark Terry, Booker Ervin, Bill (and Gil) Evans, Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan, Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, Jan Lundgren, Ahmad Jamal. In January 2015 he began contributing CD and book reviews, and articles to Jazz Journal.