White was an accomplished trombonist who played with Elmer Snowden, Claude Hopkins, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway, among others, yet his most significant contribution to pop culture may have been the invention of the word "jitterbug." Calloway trumpeter Edwin Swayzee allegedly heard White use the word; Swayzee later wrote a tune entitled "The Jitterbug." Calloway recorded it in 1934 and the word entered common usage. White played drums in his teens. He moved to Washington D.C. around 1919 and adopted the trombone as his primary instrument. White worked in Washington with Ellington, Snowden, and Hopkins during the early ‘20s, before starting a family band, the White Brothers Orchestra, in 1925. The band played a regular gig in Philadelphia; White also traveled and performed regularly in New York. He played with Luis Russell and led another group in the late ‘20s. In 1931 he worked with Mills Blue Rhythm Band (named after its manager, the impresario Irving Mills. White joined Calloway in 1932 and worked as an arranger, composer, and trombonist. In 1935 he returned to the Russell band, which was then backing Louis Armstrong. White stopped playing for a time in the mid ‘30s, before joining the band of drummer Manzie Johnson (with whom he would occasionally play alto saxophone). He would also go on to perform with trumpeter Oran "Hot Lips" Page, pianist Edgar Hayes, and saxophonist Bud Freeman.