King Pleasure (March 24, 1922 - March 21, 1981) was a jazz vocalist and an early master of vocalese, a style in which lyrics are written and sung to the solos of jazz instrumentalists. .
Born as Clarence Beeks in Oakdale, Tennessee. He grew up in Cincinnati and worked outside of the music business until he was almost 30. He moved to New York City in the mid-1940s and became a fan of bebop music. He seemed to come out of nowhere when he won amateur night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1951 singing Eddie Jefferson vocalese classic “Moody’s Mood for Love”, based on a James Moody saxophone solo to "I'm in the Mood for Love" in 1949. After his win, Beeks decided to change his name to something a little more interesting, and he succeeded on that count by dubbing himself “King Pleasure”.
Eddie Jefferson had never recorded “Moody’s Mood”, and the Apollo win gave King Pleasure the opportunity to do so. It was a surprise national hit, sitting near the top of Billboard magazine’s “Most Played Juke Box Rhythm and Blues Records” in early ’52, sandwiched in between the Dominos’ “Have Mercy, Baby” and Lloyd Price with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”. Soon, Jet magazine was reporting that King Pleasure had paid $2500 for a custom-made throne from which he sang on stage.
Pleasure's recording in 1952 is considered a jazz classic. Other notable recordings include a presciently elegiac version of "Parker's Mood", the year before Charlie Parker died in 1955, and Pleasure's take on Ammons's "Hittin' the Jug", retitled as "Swan Blues". He also recorded memorable versions of “Red Top” (with Betty Carter, based on a Gene Ammons sax solo) and Lester Young’s “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid” (a tribute to New York disc jockey Sid Torin). He moved to Los Angeles in 1956, cut a few singles that year, and made full albums in ’60 and ’62.
He had a direct or indirect influence on Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Bob Dorough, Mark Murphy, Al Jarreau, Lou Lanza, and even the Manhattan Transfer. But his recording career didn't last very long. Pleasure was still recording in the early '60s, but after that, he faded into obscurity -- although the impact of his early work would remain long after his death on March 21, 1982 in Los Angeles (only three days before what would have been his 60th birthday).
Pleasure has been cited as a significant influence by Van Morrison, especially on his album Astral Weeks. Genya Ravan, drawing big inspiration for her singing from King Pleasure, recorded "Moody's Mood For Love" with James Moody on her 1972 CBS album Genya Ravan.