Willie White was born to a farming couple in Natchez, MS. He attended school through the third grade and in 1929, left Natchez to work on Mississippi “quarter boats,” repairing and securing the river levees.
White later moved to New Orleans and worked as a waiter for nearly 20 years before being employed as a nightclub janitor and sign painter in the 1950s and 60s. After observing artists in the French Quarter, he decided to try art making for himself. Using house paint, at first he imitated others’ work but quickly adopted his own ideas and techniques, often depicting neighborhood churches and crosses. As his skills developed, he gleaned images from television and dreams, creating a visual vocabulary of dinosaurs, horses, fantastic birds, watermelons, skyscrapers, rocket ships, and planets. In the early 1960’s he began working almost exclusively with felt markers and white poster board, using canvas and paints only when someone provided him with the more costly materials.