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'Butch' White, 70, who had a role in the culture of doo-wop

KENNETH "BUTCH" White was part of the Philadelphia pop-music culture that started with a group of teenagers harmonizing on street corners.

THOMAS "BUTCH" White was part of the Philadelphia pop-music culture that started with a group of teenagers harmonizing on street corners.

They would put together groups of pals who could sing or play instruments and some even had a few hits. Others worked mostly on the perimeters of the musical world, never hitting the charts.

Somewhere in between were talents like Butch White, a taste here and there of transient glory, but confined mostly to local stages, occasional radio play and a few CDs to be prized by collectors.

But Butch was different in that he was multitalented; he sang, danced, wrote songs and even dabbled in fiction-writing.

Butch White, who worked for the city Water Department for about 15 years, died May 29 of a blood clot in his lung.

He was 71 and lived in West Philadelphia.

He got that taste of glory when a song he wrote called "Teardrops" became a big hit for the Philly-based doo-wop group Lee Andrews and the Hearts back in the '50s.

Longtime friend and former singer Jim Sloan said Butch, who had no head for business, sold the song to the Hearts for a couple of hundred bucks and never got credit for it. Hearts singer Roy Calhoun is credited on the label with writing the song.

"Butch was ripped off so many times over the years," Sloan said. "But he never had any bitterness. People who ripped him off stayed friends. He didn't have a bad bone in his body. He never bad-mouthed anyone."

Butch sang with the Lee Andrews group briefly, and also sang for a time with the more famous Larks, of which Jackie Marshall, who had sung with Butch in the early days, was a featured singer.

Most of these singers were from the same neighborhood in Southwest Philadelphia where Butch grew up. He had a solid baritone voice that could also soar into falsetto as required by doo-wop singing. He also performed and cut records under the name Tommy Ace.

"Butch never wanted to become a full member of any group," Sloan said. "He was more into writing. He wrote a lot of songs."

One of them, called "Neverland," was a tribute to Michael Jackson on Jackson's death. "Butch thought Michael Jackson was the greatest performer in the last hundred years. I have a CD of the song, but it was never performed."

Butch seemed happier on his own, writing songs, selling them to others, and cutting some CDs that he produced on his own. Some included spiritual songs.

"He had written a book that he wanted me to read," Sloan said. "He told me it would make a great movie, but he died before I could see the manuscript."

Butch was born in Philadelphia to Mabel and Thomas White. He graduated from West Philadelphia High School.

He lived in Southern California for a time, but returned to Philadelphia in 1977 to take care of his mother after his father died. He worked as a security guard and nonteaching assistant for the school district before starting with the Water Department in 1987. He retired in 2002.

"He was very well-read," said his sister, Sheila White Cousar. "He enjoyed a good political argument."

"Butch and I had philosophical debates," said Jim Sloan, a former sailor who lives in Thailand. "He had gone through the gambit of religions. He joined the Black Muslims, then became an atheist.

"He used to pick on me about being a Christian. I would tell him, 'If I'm wrong, nobody gets hurt. If you're wrong, you're in deep s---.' He couldn't argue about that."

Butch had a rich sense of humor, and became fascinated by Jewish humor. He would tell jokes with a Jewish slant.

"I didn't get some of his jokes," his sister said. "They were over my head."

Besides his sister, he is survived by a son, Malcolm Waters; two other sisters, Pamela White and Angela Sanders, and a brother, Gerald White.

Services: Memorial service at 10 a.m. June 12 at the Ivan Kimble Funeral Home, 1100 N. 63rd St.