African-American history month - "to keep, love and to hold"
The young man had a string of hits and the support of two 1950’s rhythm and blues giants. He started life in Memphis as the son of a preacher, sang gospel and played piano. He joined the Navy, but his heart wasn’t in it and he wandered back to Memphis where he found his true adventure - music. When BB King left Memphis the talented singer changed the name of the band he had played in with King and spun discs for WDIA in his place. He was discovered by bandleader Johnny Otis and recorded for Memphis label Duke Records, which had partnered with Houston’s Peacock, owned by mogul Don Robey. His first recording struck gold - “My Song” stayed on top of the R&B charts for 9 weeks. Then the hits came one after another. Robey could move records and he promoted the youngster from Memphis as he promoted Gatemouth Brown, Big Mama Thornton, and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. He put this talent on the road to tour the country. His biggest hit came when songwriter Ferdinand Washington, Robey (who reportedly coerced writers into giving him credit for publishing revenue), bandleader/producer and vibraphone musician Johnny Otis gave the 25 year old singer a striking ballad that reached #17 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but on this date in 1955 it took the top position on the R&B charts and stayed there for 10 weeks.
Johnny Ace didn’t get to hear his last song on the radio and on the lips of thousands that spring however. He died backstage in Houston on the previous Christmas Day while playing with a pistol that he and everyone else backstage - including Thornton - thought was empty.
Here’s the song that recalls a legend that became a hit for Kitty Wells (1971) and EmmyLou Harris (#9 in 1983) - on Billboard’s country music charts. It has been recorded numerous times by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley - on his last record, ‘Moody Blue’ - Aaron Neville, and David Allan Coe.