Thursday, 10 January 2013
Johnnie Ray born 10 January 1927
John Alvin Ray (January 10, 1927–February 24, 1990) was one of the most influential singers of the second half of the 20th century. Despite a severe hearing loss that left him with less than 35% hearing in both ears, he was the bridge between the big band sound and the rock’n’roll music that began to permeate the radio airwaves and dominate the music industry from the mid-1950’s onwards.
Known at various times in his career as the Prince of Wails, the Nabob of Sob and the Howling Success because of his highly emotional singing and apparent ability to cry at will, Ray is rated an important influence in the development of 50s and early 60s popular music. Of North American Indian origin, he became deaf in his right ear at the age of 12, which caused him to wear a hearing-aid throughout his career. He
was heavily influenced by gospel and R&B music and performed in bars and clubs around Detroit in the late 40s, singing to his own piano accompaniment. Signed by Columbia Records in 1951, his first two releases were on their small OKeh Records label, usually reserved for black artists. His first record, "Whiskey And Gin", was followed by "Cry". Unsophisticated, full of anguish, despair and a good deal of sobbing, it shocked a pop world accustomed to male singers crooning in front of big bands, and streaked to the top of the US charts, complete with Ray's own composition, "The Little White Cloud That Cried", on the b-side. "Cry" became his "identity" song, and a multi-million-seller.
Ray was then transferred to the Columbia label, and during the next couple of years, he had several massive US hits including "Please Mr Sun", "Here Am I - Broken Hearted", "Walkin' My Baby Back Home" and "Somebody Stole My Gal'. His stage performances, with their overt sexuality and
hysterical audience reaction, made him persona non grata to parents of teenagers worldwide. For a few years during the 50s, he enjoyed phenomenal success, revolutionizing popular music and symbolizing teenagers" frustrations and desires. Always acknowledging his gospel roots, Ray recorded several tracks associated with black artists, including the Drifters' R&B hit "Such a Night" (1954), which was banned on several US radio stations, and "Just Walkin' In the Rain" (1956), which climbed to number 2 in the US charts, and was originally recorded by the Prisonaires. By contrast, in 1954, he played a young singer who decides to
become a priest in Irving Berlin's musical film There's No Business Like Show Business. Ray sang the gospel-styled "If You Believe" and "Alexander's Ragtime Band".
During the late 50s in the USA, rumours were rife concerning Ray's possible homosexuality and drug-taking, and as a result he became more popular abroad than at home. In the UK, in person and on record, he had been a favourite since 1952. Three of his US hits reached UK number 1, including "Yes Tonight Josephine" (1957). Other UK successes included "Faith Can Move Mountains", "Hey There" and "Look Homeward Angel". Ray also duetted with Doris Day ("Ma Says Pa Says", "Full Time Job", "Let's Walk That A-Way") and Frankie Laine ("Good Evening Friends"). In the early 60s, suffering from financial problems and alcoholism, and left behind as the musical climate rapidly changed, Ray turned to cabaret in the USA. During the 70s he began to revive his career, leaning heavily on his old material for its nostalgic appeal.
Always in demand in the UK, Ray was headlining there until the late 80s. His last performance is said to have been in his home-town on 7 October 1989, and he died of liver failure a few months later in Los Angeles. As to his influence and legacy, one writer concluded: "Ray was the link between Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, re-creating the bobby-sox mayhem that elevated "The Voice' while anticipating the sexual chaos that accompanied Presley."
(Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin).