Perhaps the most unusual sleeve commissioned from White was the one he produced for Sandhog, a folk opera devised and executed by Earl Robinson, singer and pianist, and Waldo Salt, narrator. Miscellany notes by I S Horowitz, in the Billboard magazine of February 26, 1955, noted that, “Vanguard Records will soon cut its first L.P. in a new series of show albums. The initial set will be a “special composers’ performance” of “Sandhog,” with Earl Robinson and Waldo Salt featured. The work was recently introduced in New York.” [I S Horowitz, “Liner Notes”, Billboard magazine, February 26, 1955: 38.] A Sandhog was the informal term traditionally given to miners, and those construction workers toiling underground on excavation projects in cities such as New York. Sand was the brainchild of Robinson and Salt. Both were blacklisted (on account of their apparent or perceived left-leaning sympathies) during the McCarthy era, during which time hundreds of Americans, many of whom were artists, writers or otherwise involved in the creative industries, were accused of being communists or communist sympathizers and became the focus of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private industry panels, committees and agencies. It was as a consequence of this targeting that figures such as Salt and Robinson came to be blacklisted. [Charles White’s own left-leaning impulses and his art work that reflected these impulses were chronicled in Mary Helen Washington’s The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s [Columbia University Press, 2014]. Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement, 1926-1956, by Andrew Hemingway [Yale University Press, 2002] also documents the left-leaning aspects of White’s practice.]
The record, (an opera-like musical) for which White provided a fascinating cover was about a sandhog (as mentioned, a tunnel digger in cities such as New York) named Johnny O’Sullivan, set in the late 19th Century. Characteristically, the opera celebrated the common people, and the laboring man. White’s sleeve feature a sympathetically drawn portrait of a sandhog, shirt sleeves rolled up, with industrial safety goggles perched on his forehead. His muscular arms dominated the lower part of the portrait, and as with other renderings by White, the man’s shirt was suggested by a series of sometimes briskly executed lines. The sandhog gazed, somewhat wistfully, out of the frame, suggesting, in the clearest yet unspoken terms, that though this man lived by the sweat of his brow, he was, even so, a man capable of deep thought and singular intellect. He was, to coin a phrase, a gentle giant. It was though, the delicate line drawing of a little girl jumping rope, in the upper left corner of the record sleeve, that reinscribed this depiction of humanity. The girl was draw with her knees bent, as the jump rope passed beneath her, the folds of the rope momentarily joining the folds of the sandhog’s shirt. Robinson and Salt’s wish to celebrate the humble laborer was echoed by White’s drawing, including his simple, fetching, depiction of a carefree little girl, skipping, her hair in unpretentious, simple, pigtails.
The record was likely to have been released circa 1956, the only references to White on the sleeve being his signature on the drawing, located below the right-sided wrist of the sandhog. The signature was appended with '56