Al Hibbler in 1946
|Birth name||Albert George Hibbler|
August 16, 1915|
Tyro, Mississippi, United States
|Died||April 24, 2001
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Traditional popular music
|Associated acts||Duke Ellington|
Albert George "Al" Hibbler (August 16, 1915 – April 24, 2001) was an American baritone vocalist, who sang with Duke Ellington's orchestra before having several pop hits as a solo artist. Some of Hibbler's singing is classified as rhythm and blues, but he is best seen as a bridge between R&B and traditional pop music. According to one authority, "Hibbler cannot be regarded as a jazz singer but as an exceptionally good interpreter of twentieth-century popular songs who happened to work with some of the best jazz musicians of the time."
Early life 
Hibbler was born in Tyro, Mississippi, United States, and was blind from birth. At the age of 12 he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he attended Arkansas School for the Blind, joining the school choir. Later he began working as a blues singer in local bands, failing his first audition for Duke Ellington in 1935. However, after winning an amateur talent contest in Memphis, Tennessee, he was given his start with Dub Jenkins and his Playmates; Jenkins was a popular Memphis saxophonist. He later joined a band led by Jay McShann in 1942, and the following year joined Ellington's orchestra, replacing Herb Jeffries.
He stayed with Ellington for almost eight years, and featured on a range of Ellington standards, including "Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me", the words for which were written specifically for him and which reached # 6 on the Billboard pop chart (and # 1 for eight weeks on the "Harlem Hit Parade") in 1944, "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues," and "I'm Just a Lucky So-and-So". Although Hibbler's style was described as "mannered", "over-stated", and "full of idiosyncrasies" and "bizarre vocal pyrotechnics", he was also considered "undoubtedly the best" of Ellington's male vocalists. While with Ellington, Hibbler won the Esquire New Star Award in 1947 and the Down Beat award for Best Band Vocalist in 1949.
Hibbler left Ellington's band in 1951 after a dispute over his wages. He then recorded with various bands including those of Johnny Hodges and Count Basie, and for various labels including Mercury and Norgran, a subsidiary of Verve Records, for whom he released an LP, Al Hibbler Favorites, in 1953. In 1954 he released a more successful album, Al Hibbler Sings Duke Ellington, and in 1955, he started recording with Decca Records, with immediate success. His biggest hit was "Unchained Melody", which reached # 3 on the US pop chart, and its success led to network appearances, including a live jazz club remote on NBC's Monitor. Other hits were "He" (1955), "11th Hour Melody" and "Never Turn Back" (both in 1956). "After the Lights Go Down Low" (also in 1956) was his last top ten hit.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, Hibbler became a civil rights activist, marching with protestors and getting arrested in 1959 in New Jersey and in 1963 in Alabama. The notoriety of this activism discouraged major record labels from carrying his work, but Frank Sinatra supported him and signed him to a contract with his label, Reprise Records. However, Hibbler made very few recordings after that, occasionally doing live appearances through the 1990s. In 1971, Hibbler sang two songs at Louis Armstrong's funeral. In 1972 he made an album, A Meeting of the Times, with another fiercely independent blind musician, the multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
Solo singles (chart hits only) 
|Year||Title||Label & Cat. No.||U.S. Pop||U.S. R&B||UK|
|1948||"Trees" / "Lover, Come Back To Me"||Miracle 501||
|1950||"Danny Boy"||Atlantic 911||
|1951||"What Will I Tell My Heart"||Chess 1455||
|1955||"Unchained Melody"||Decca 29441 (US)
Brunswick 05420 (UK)
|1956||"11th Hour Melody"||Decca 29789||
|1956||"Never Turn Back" / "Away All Boats"||Decca 29950||
|1956||"After The Lights Go Down Low"||Decca 29982||
|1957||"Trees" (re-recording)||Decca 30176||
- The Ellingtonians With Al Hibbler, Mercer 1004, 1951
- Al Hibbler Favorites, Norgran MGN-4, 1953
- Al Hibbler Sings Duke Ellington, Norgran MGN-15, 1954
- Al Hibbler Sings With The Duke, Columbia CL2593, 1954 (recordings from 1947 - 1949)
- Melodies By Al Hibbler, Marterry 601, 1955 (recordings from 1947 - 1948)
- Starring Al Hibbler, Decca DL8328, 1956
- After The Lights Go Down Low, Atlantic 1251, 1956
- Al Hibbler Sings Love Songs, Verve MGV-4000, 1956 (recordings from 1952 - 1954)
- Here's Hibbler!, Decca DL8420, 1957
- I Surrender Dear, Score SLP4013, 1957 (one side only) (recordings from 1946)
- Torchy and Blue, Decca DL8697, 1958
- Hits By Hibbler, Decca DL8757, 1958
- Al Hibbler Remembers The Big Songs of the Big Bands, Decca DL 78862, 1959
- Al Hibbler Sings The Blues: Monday Every Day, Reprise R9-2005, 1961
- Shades of Blue, Imperial 9185, 1961 (one side only) (recordings from 1946, same as 'I Surrender Dear')
- Early One Morning, LMI, 1964 (with The Roland Hanna Trio)
- A Meeting Of The Times (with Rahsaan Roland Kirk), Atlantic 1630, 1972
- Christmas With Al Hibbler, Holiday HDY1926, 1981
- For Sentimental Reasons (with Hank Jones), Open Sky, 1982
Listen to 
See also 
- List of artists under the Decca Records label
- List of artists who reached number one on the Billboard R&B chart
- List of artists who reached number one on the Australian singles chart
- List of people from Little Rock, Arkansas
- "Remembering Al Hibbler" by JC Marion, 2004.
- Colin Larkin, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, excerpted at Oldies.com
- Obituary by Ben Ratliff, New York Times
- Biography by John Bush at Allmusic.com
- Obituary, The Independent, 30 April 2001
- Al Hibbler at Jazzhouse.org
- Al Hibbler discography and label shots
- John A. Drobnicki, "Hibbler, Albert George ('Al')," in The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Vol. VI: 2000-2002 (Scribner's, 2004), p. 232.
- Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 313. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 191.
- Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 355. ISBN 0-00-717931-6.
- The record reached #1 in the rival Record Mirror singles chart.