Jesco White

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Jesco White
Jesco White in 2011
Jesco White

(1956-07-30) July 30, 1956 (age 66)
Other names"The Dancing Outlaw"
OccupationMountain Dancer, Entertainer
Years active1980s–present
Spouse(s)Norma Jean White (1974–2009; her death)
Alida Raquel White (2011–present)

Jesco White, also known as the "Dancing Outlaw" (born July 30, 1956) is an American folk dancer and entertainer. He is best known as the subject of three American documentary films that detail his desire to follow in his famous father's footsteps while dealing with depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, and the poverty that affects some parts of rural Appalachia.

Personal life[edit]

Jesco White was born in Bandytown, a tiny community located in the Appalachian Mountains of Boone County, West Virginia, to Donald Ray White (1927–1985), also known as D. Ray White, and Bertie Mae White. White's father was profiled in the Smithsonian Folkways documentary Talking Feet: Solo Southern Dance: Buck, Flatfoot and Tap (1987) as one of the greatest mountain dancers in the United States.[1] Following in the footsteps of his father, Jesco's dance style is a subtle mix of tap and clog dancing that is native to Appalachia. After the death of his father, Jesco obtained D. Ray's tapping shoes which he wears while performing. Jesco White's dancing has been featured in at least three documentaries.

White was married to Norma Jean White (1974–2009)[2][3] and married Alida White in 2011.[4]

Shooting incident[edit]

In 1985, while finalizing the film Talking Feet, D. Ray, Jesco, and his younger brother Dorsey were involved in a domestic dispute. Steve Allen Rowe used his 12-gauge shotgun to shoot D. Ray once in the chest, Jesco received one neck wound, and Dorsey a single gunshot to the eye. D. Ray was the only fatality of the disturbance, who was reportedly protecting his youngest son during a drunken disagreement.[5]

2009 arrest[edit]

In April 2009, White was featured in the documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, produced by Storm Taylor and MTV's Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremaine. The film was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. White has claimed that his portrayal in the documentary was an act and is not an accurate depiction of the White family.[6][7]

The week after the release of Wild and Wonderful, Jesco White and his sister, Sue Bob White, were arrested in West Virginia on suspicion of drug-related crimes.[8] White gave an on-camera interview while in jail and stated that he had been drug-free for 30 years. White said that he is not a bad person and that he was "embarrassed" and "hurt" by the arrest.[9] Shortly after his arrest, White was bonded out of jail by the producers of the documentary.[10][11] A month after his arrest, the charges against White were dismissed due to lack of evidence.[12][13]

Depictions in media[edit]

Dancing Outlaw[edit]

White was first profiled on the Public Broadcasting Service's Different Drummer series. The first of these documentaries was Dancing Outlaw (1991),[14] directed by Jacob Young, which featured him at home in West Virginia and gave audiences a glimpse into his troubled life. Young originally came to Boone County in search of D. Ray who had been murdered years prior. The TV series aimed to showcase "the unsung geniuses and charismatic madmen of Appalachian county."[15][16] The director used this opportunity to unveil Jesco's talent and introduce America to the Dancing Outlaw. Viewers are acquainted with Jesco's three distinct personalities. "The gentle and loving Jesse, the violent and dangerous Jesco, and the extremely strange Elvis."[17] This is the first of many mentions he makes regarding his lifelong struggle with his personality disorder. His admiration of Elvis is apparent in his stage attire and Elvis room within his home which White claims "saved his life from certain doom".[15] The film won an American Film Institute Award and an Emmy for Best Documentary, was screened at the Museum of Modern Art, and was named best public television program in 1992.[16]

Dancing Outlaw II: Jesco Goes to Hollywood[edit]

Dancing Outlaw II (1999)[18] (also directed by Jacob Young) chronicles White's trip to Los Angeles to appear in the episode "I Pray the Lord My Stove to Keep" of the sitcom Roseanne as the Elvis impersonating "Dan's Clog-Dancing Cousin".[19]

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia[edit]

The documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2009) directed by Julien Nitzberg follows the White Family for one year, according to Mamie White, eldest of D. Ray and Bertie Mae’s children. It primarily consists of first person interviews detailing the poverty, crime, addiction and the ramifications of the coal-mining industry on Appalachian society.[20][21]

Grand Theft Auto V[edit]

Jesco White provides his voice as the DJ of Rebel Radio in the video game Grand Theft Auto V.[22][23][24] He also makes a cameo in-game as an Easter egg, where you can find a character depiction of Jesco doing his mountain dance. The easter egg is found in the Alamo Sea region of San Andreas, dancing to an Ozark Mountain Daredevils song being played on a small boombox behind him. Motion capture technology was used to help depict Jesco's unique style of dancing.

Other depictions[edit]

  • It Came from Trafalgar (2009) directed by Solomon Mortamur[25]
  • The film White Lightnin' (2009) directed by Dominic Murphy is very loosely based on the life of Jesco White[26][27]
  • Appeared in the Beck video "Loser"
  • Is Ga-Ga-Pee-Pap Cuyler in several episodes of the animated television series Squidbillies
  • Has cameo as himself in the 2017 film Logan Lucky

Numerous musicians have made tribute songs for Jesco White and the White family. These include:

Jesco has also been sampled or referred to by numerous musicians, including the bands Ministry, Mastodon, Live, Big & Rich, Əkoostik hookah, Jim Shelley, The Atomic Bitchwax, Headcrash, and Tanner Flowers.


  1. ^ Talking Feet:Solo Southern Dance:Buck, Flatfoot and Tap (Documentary). Smithsonian Institution: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. 1987. Event occurs at 1:12 onward. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  2. ^ "Obituaries". Coal Valley News. Madison, West Virginia. 28 October 2009. Archived from the original on 23 May 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  3. ^ Rootsweb Social Security Death Index search for Norma Jean White. Retrieved on 28 April 2013.
  4. ^ "Jesco White gets married!". Coal Valley News. Madison, West Virginia. 23 January 2012. Archived from the original on 23 January 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  5. ^ "Dancing Outlaw II: Jesco Goes to Hollywood". Film Vault. The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  6. ^ WSAZ News Staff (29 April 2009). "MTV Producers Bond Jesco Out of Jail". WSAZ Channel 3 News. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  7. ^ "Jesco Out of Jail". MetroNews, The Voice of West Virginia. 29 April 2009. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 2015-02-13.
  8. ^ Hicks, Martin (28 April 2009). "Dancing Outlaw Behind Bars". WCHS 8 Eyewitness News. Archived from the original on 3 November 2011. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  9. ^ Jesco White Gives Jailhouse Interview After Arrest. WSAZ Channel 3 News, via YouTube. YouTube. 29 April 2009. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  10. ^ WSAZ News Staff (29 April 2009). "MTV Producers Bond Jesco Out of Jail". WSAZ Channel 3 News. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  11. ^ "Jesco Out of Jail". MetroNews, The Voice of West Virginia. 29 April 2009. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  12. ^ "'Dancing Outlaw' Jesco White Cleared of Drug Charges". WSAZ Channel 3 News. Associated Press. 22 May 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  13. ^ Keeney, Lawrence (May 2009). "Charges Dropped against "Outlaw"". Coal Valley News.
  14. ^ Dancing Outlaw at IMDb
  15. ^ a b Beeson, Ed (16 October 2003). "The Dancing Outlaw makes a run for the West Virginia border". Creative Loafing Atlanta. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  16. ^ a b "Dancing Outlaw II: Jesco Goes to Hollywood". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 16 August 2017 – via Film Vault.
  17. ^ "Different Drummer: Dancing Outlaw". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  18. ^ Dancing Outlaw II: Jesco Goes to Hollywood at IMDb
  19. ^ "I Pray the Lord My Stove to Keep". International Movie Database. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  20. ^ Owens, Jesi (26 November 2010). "Interview: Wild, Wonderful, Poor, Trapped: Jesco White and Family Are Back". Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  21. ^ Jardin, Xeni. "The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia". Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  22. ^ "Full Tracklist for Grand Theft Auto V Revealed -". 3 October 2013.
  23. ^ Roberts, Randall (23 August 2013). "Grand Theft Auto V music tracklist, stations revealed". LA Times. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  24. ^ Shamoon, Evan (28 August 2013). "Inside the 'Grand Theft Auto V' Soundtrack". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  25. ^ It Came from Trafalgar at IMDb
  26. ^ White Lightnin at IMDb
  27. ^ "White Lightnin'". Archives. Sundance Institute. Retrieved 16 August 2017.

External links[edit]