Before Shazam, QiiQoo, Google and other music discovery tools, there was Skippy White. If you needed to know the name of a song you heard on the radio, all you had to do was head down to his record store and “just hum it”. Not only would he identify the song, chances were very high that he had the record for you to buy.
From 1961 until 2020, Skippy White’s was the place to buy records, cassette tapes, CDs and find new R&B, Gospel and popular music. Born in 1936, Fred LeBlanc began his career as a record collector, radio announcer and retail businessman. He was influenced by local legends who were exposing R&B music to a national audience including “Symphony Sid” Torin, Jacob Levinson of Smilin’ Jacks’ College Music Shop and WILD’s Jimmy “Early” Byrd.
In 1961, Fred opened his first store, Mass Records – The Home of the Blues, at 1820 Washington Street, where Grant Manor housing is now located. Nearby were famous Roxbury nightclubs Louie’s Lounge, Basin Street East, Big Jim’s Shanty Lounge, and Mellon’s Tavern.
He opened Oldies But Goodies Land, his second store, in 1962. He also started working as a DJ at WILD radio where Fred “White” became Skippy. The stores became Skippy White’s House of Blues. The store most fondly remembered was the first store relocated to 1763 Washington Street in 1969 at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue named Skippy White’s Records. He opened stores in Dudley Square in Roxbury and Central Square in Cambridge in 1972 and a Mattapan store in 1979. Skippy’s merged those stores into one location in Egleston Square that opened in 2004 and closed in January 2020.
Skippy White holds a special place in my development as a music professional. My first job in the record industry was working at Skippy’s. Working for him I learned how records and songs were launched and marketed; how artists were discovered by the audience, and by what methods product is distributed across the country to be promoted and sold in stores, online and played on radio, television and streams.
Skippy White’s stores was the training ground for many recording professionals who came out of Boston. Skippy’s stores survived the transition from vinyl to tape cassettes to compact discs and competition from Strawberries and Tower Records, yet in the end, they were all casualties of digital technology.
The loss of the record stores left a gaping hole in the cultural and music landscape of Roxbury and Greater Boston, Skippy White remains a radio icon with his Oldies and Gospel shows heard on The Urban Heat, 98.1 FM, Boston.