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Diana White Redux Part 1

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

Publicity poster designed in 1977 by Diana White. Courtesy of R. White

During the course of research for Pluck, a very few, small references to David’s friend Diana White popped up from disparate sources. They suggest Diana and David were close, and she likely contributed to David’s early development as a player, as a co-songwriter and as an arranger during the mid-seventies.

c. 1977 Tres Ríos: l to r: Bonnie Carol, Diana White, David Schnaufer. Courtesy of Bonnie Carol.

I first heard of Diana in an interview of David by Jerry Wright in which he mentioned a “classically trained mandolinist” from his early playing years who helped him. I first saw her in Bonnie Carol's photos of Tres Ríos, a group Bonnie formed with David and Diana after they met at the Schillings first dulcimer festival. Later, I was given a letter from David that included an address in St. Louis he listed as his mailing address, and I found that same address on a tab credited to her in Bonnie Carol’s book,. Dust Off That Dulcimer & Dance along with some notes Bonnie wrote about Diana in the book. However, after years of searching for specific evidence on her influence on David's playing, I found nothing more. Several of David’s contemporaries remembered meeting her, but no one knew what happened to her. It was as if she had disappeared off the face of the earth after she and David parted ways. I search for two years for information on their partnership beyond the wispy clues, and, finally, I gave up.

Recently, I received a surprise email: Diana’s brother had found while conducting some genealogy work for--are you ready for this?--Diana's children. I almost fell off my chair when I read his email. He wrote that he had met David in the mid-seventies and was surprised to come across his name online. He browsed through the promotional videos and was even more shocked

1977 David and Diana White at the Schillings Cosby Dulcimer Festival. Courtesy of Bonnie Carol.

to see a photo of his sister in the video What if? on the homepage. Thanks to Diana's brother and his enthusiasm, he connected me with many of Diana’s friends. Thus, Diana's story began to unfold, and I'll share much of what I learned with you in this and the next blog post.

Diana White; photographer unknown. Courtesy of R. White.

Let's start back to the mid-seventies... Diana's tight-knit group of friends explained how they all became interested in learning to play instruments and sing together:

It was the times of new (and a revival of bluegrass/old-time) music, artists, and freedom to express yourself that inspired us, and the fact that we all had parents who either loved or played

music themselves and who encouraged and were incredibly

supportive of our music interests.

Diana and David journey as musicians were quite similar. Despite David’s mentioning her in an interview as a “classically-trained mandolinist," Diana was primarily self-taught; one friend called her a "developing musical prodigy". While her friends chose to learn to play guitar, she picked up the mandolin at age thirteen and retreated to her room for two months to learn to play it. When she emerged, a close girlfriend wrote,.

... none of us even knew she was learning to play until one day she showed up

with [the mandolin] and blew our socks off ... given that she played piano and could

read music, I’m inclined to say she was mostly, if not entirely, self-taught through

hours of intensive practice.

Another close friend shared that Diana learned by playing Medieval and Renaissance music she taught herself via record albums she collected. Shortly thereafter, she fell in love with folk music and became a virtuoso in that genre as well. A pro musician who called Diana his dear friend told me that by 1974, she was ... into an intricate style of playing mandolin and her technique was remarkable in all aspects.

David and Diana shared many traits. Her family and many friends asserted that Diana was "a poet" who the nicest, kindest person they had ever known. Everyone loved her and still does. Sweet, artistically talented (she designed her own clothes), generous and utterly devoted to music…like David, she would play for hours, sometimes as if in a trance. Both before and after her friendship with David, she sought out other talented musicians with whom to play. David would stay on and off with Diana’s parents in St. Louis when he and Diana weren’t on the road traveling to festivals and gigs together in her green van she dubbed "Miss Iris". Her parents adored David, and welcomed him to stay even if Diana was not there. When Diana's brother was home from college and David was staying there, he called him "Dulcimer David". Diana's brother held out hope that someday the two would marry, but it was not to be.

It’s still a mystery as to exactly where and when they met, but here's what I have learned so far. They likely met sometime after David winning Winfield in the Spring of 1976 and February of 1977, when Diana wrote to her parents from her cabin in Nederland, Colorado about her new cabin-mate, David.

The situation at the house is good – Sharing with this fellow – There is plenty of space

so we don’t get in each others way -- He’s real nice and easy going ... I think it’s

going to work out real fine.

After reading David's interview and his reference to Diana, I strongly suspect she was an important influence and kindred spirit while they were together. Everything I've learned from her family and circle of friends suggests my hunch was correct. In my next post, I will share what I learned about

Diana, and why she disappeared. And, you'll get a taste of Diana as a singer/songwriter.

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