First solo art show is artistic renaissance for River City Drum Corps founder Edward White – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville
Looking at a photo he took in the summer of 2020 during the racial justice protests in Louisville, Edward White explained that his photography “is about capturing the essence of the spirit.”
The photo is a horizontal portrait of a woman with long hair and sunglasses. His t-shirt says “I CAN’T BREATHE”.
“So when I point this camera, I’m looking for the essence,” he said.
The photo is one of thousands White has taken over the years. They are mostly sitting on his computer or stored in boxes. But today they hang on the walls of the Portland Museum in Louisville for his first solo exhibition.
“Edward R. White, Homecoming: A Lifetime Retrospective” opens on Sunday and ends on April 8.
For White, this show is a kind of coming out as a visual artist.
His public life thus far has largely been defined by a non-profit organization focused on empowering West End youth through music, particularly pan-African drumming and rhythm culture.
In 1990, White and his late wife, Zambia Nkrumah, founded the River City Drum Corps. And over the following decades, his work with the group earned him a number of prestigious accolades, including a Governor’s Award in the Arts, Louisville Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award and the National Education Association Human and Civil Rights Award. The organization gained national notoriety and was the subject of a documentary film.
Between rehearsals, lessons, and performances, White quietly built a catalog of photographs.
“As I was doing drum corps, I always had this desire to do, this desire to create,” he said. “Even though River City Drum Corps is an art form in itself, I was the director and I didn’t participate in it or create it.”
He was taking pictures of the drum corps musicians. He took snaps at festivals and events they performed at, such as a multi-year photo at the Newburg Day Parade. It features a young girl running through a dense batch of bubbles.
“I see the world in photographs…because that’s how my brain works,” he said, looking around at the images in the gallery at the Portland Museum.
White grew up in Portland; the third generation of his family to do so. His brothers played sports and he was encouraged to do the same.
“And that’s the way that, you know, so many African American men say that’s their way out,” he said.
White, however, loved the arts. He said his mother had a background in music and his father worked in construction.
“He built things. He created things… I looked at all of this and it stuck with me, the ability to do this, to look at this and say, ‘Well, let me look at this. I can relate to that, I think I could build it,” White said.
He became addicted to photography in his late twenties. White took photography classes at Jefferson Community and Technical College and wanted to go to photojournalism school. But it didn’t seem possible to pivot to a new career, he said. White already had a good job at the Portland Boys and Girls Club and this gig led to more community work, which then led to the drum corps.
White officially retired from the River City Drum Corps several years ago, passing it on to a Drum Corps alumnus and mentee.
White is well known for his musical work, “but now is the time for him in his career to kind of be reborn into whatever he wants,” said Portland Museum executive director Katy Delahanty.
White is a member of the museum’s board of trustees and Delahanty considers him a mentor.
“He’s been such a prolific artist and has so much work that hasn’t been seen.”
The exhibition is not limited to White’s photography. He also showcases his sculpture, his ceramics, including his collection of ceramic bow ties, one of the many mediums he has worked on.
Now, as her 70th birthday approaches, White is confident to share the art that has been an integral part of her life: “From now on, that’s what I’m going to do, from now on.”
White said it was “liberating”.
Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.