Johnnie Ray (January 10, 1927 – February 24, 1990) was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Popular for most of the 1950s, Ray has been cited by critics as a major precursor of what would become rock and roll, for his jazz and blues-influenced music and his animated stage personality. nspired by rhythm singers like Kay Starr, LaVern Baker and Ivory Joe Hunter, Ray developed a unique rhythm-based style, described as alternating between pre-rock R&B and a more conventional classic pop approach. Ray first attracted the attention of Bernie Lang, a song plugger, who was taken to the Flame Showbar nightclub in Detroit, Michigan by local DJ, Robin Seymour of WKMH. "We were both excited," Seymour recalls. "We heard two shows that first night." Lang rushed off to New York to sell the singer to Danny Kessler, the "Mr. Big" of the Okeh label, a subsidiary of Columbia Records. Kessler came over from New York, and he, Lang and Seymour went to the Flame. According to Seymour, Kessler's reaction was, "Well, I don't know. This kid looks well on the stand, but he will never go on records. It was Seymour and Lowell Worley of the local office of Columbia who persuaded Kessler to have a test record made of Ray. Worley arranged for a record to be cut at the United Sound Studios in Detroit. Seymour told reporter Dick Osgood that there was a verbal agreement that he would be cut in on the three-way deal in the management of Ray. But the deal mysteriously evaporated, and so did Seymour's friendship with Kessler.
Ray's first record, the self-penned R&B number for OKeh Records, "Whiskey and Gin", was a minor hit in 1951. The following year he dominated the charts with the double-sided hit single of "Cry" and "The Little White Cloud That Cried". Selling over two million copies of the 78rpm single, Ray's delivery struck a chord with teenagers and he quickly became a teen idol.
Ray's performing style included theatrics later associated with rock 'n roll, including tearing at his hair, falling to the floor, and letting the tears flow. Ray quickly earned the nicknames "Mr. Emotion", "The Nabob of Sob", and "The Prince of Wails", and several others. More hits followed, including "Please Mr. Sun", "Such a Night", "Walkin' My Baby Back Home", "A Sinner Am I", and "Yes Tonight Josephine". He had a UK Christmas #1 hit with "Just Walkin' in the Rain" in 1956. He hit again in 1957 with "You Don't Owe Me a Thing", which reached #10 in the Billboard charts. He was popular in the United Kingdom, breaking the record at the London Palladium formerly set by Frankie Laine. In later years, he retained a loyal fan base overseas, particularly in Australia.
Ray drank regularly and his alcoholism caught up with him in 1960, when he was hospitalized for tuberculosis. He recovered but continued drinking, and was diagnosed with cirrhosis at age fifty.
On February 24, 1990, Ray died of liver failure at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.He is buried at Hopewell Cemetery near Hopewell, Oregon.
For his contribution to the recording industry, Johnnie Ray has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6201 Hollywood Boulevard.
Ray in 1969, as best man at Judy Garland's wedding, by Allan Warren
|Birth name||John Alvin Ray|
|Born||January 10, 1927|
Hopewell, Oregon, United States
|Died||February 24, 1990 (aged 63)|
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Genres||Traditional pop music|