|This article needs additional citations for verification. (October 2014)|
|Birth name||John Alvin Ray|
January 10, 1927|
Hopewell, Oregon, United States
|Died||February 24, 1990
Los Angeles, United States
John Alvin "Johnnie" Ray (January 10, 1927 – February 24, 1990) was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Extremely 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. Tony Bennett credits Ray as being the true father of rock and roll.
British Hit Singles & Albums noted that Ray was "a sensation in the 1950s, the heart-wrenching vocal delivery of 'Cry' ... influenced many acts including Elvis and was the prime target for teen hysteria in the pre-Presley days."
In the United States in 1952 Ray rose very quickly from obscurity to stardom. He became a major star in the United Kingdom by performing and releasing recordings there in 1953. He matched these achievements in Australia the following year. His career in his native United States began to decline in the late 1950s, and his American record label dropped him in 1960.[page needed] He never regained a strong following there and very rarely appeared on American television after 1973. His fan base in other countries, however, remained strong until his last year of performing, which was 1989. His recordings never stopped selling outside the United States.
Johnnie Ray was born January 10, 1927 in Dallas, Oregon to parents Elmer and Hazel (Simkins) Ray. Along with older sister Elma, Ray spent part of his childhood on a farm in Dallas and attended grade school there. The family later moved to Portland, Oregon, where Ray attended high school.
At age 13, Ray became deaf in his left ear following a mishap that occured during a Boy Scout "blanket toss." In later years, Ray performed wearing a hearing aid. Surgery performed in 1958 left him almost completely deaf in both ears, although hearing aids helped his condition.
Inspired by rhythm singers like Kay Starr, LaVern Baker and Ivory Joe Hunter, Ray developed a unique rhythm-based singing 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. Lang went to New York to sell the singer to Danny Kessler 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. When OKeh parent Columbia Records realized that with Ray being white and had developed a fan base of white listeners, Ray was moved over to the Columbia label.[page needed] 20th Century Fox capitalized on his superstardom by including him in the ensemble cast of the movie There's No Business Like Show Business (1954) alongside Ethel Merman as his mother, Dan Dailey as his father, Donald O'Connor as his brother and Marilyn Monroe as his sister-in-law.
Ray's performing style included theatrics later associated with rock and roll, including tearing at his hair, falling to the floor, and crying. 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 United Kingdom number 1 hit with "Just Walkin' in the Rain" (which Ray initially disliked) during the Christmas season in 1956. He hit again in 1957 with "You Don't Owe Me a Thing," which reached number 10 in the Billboard charts. Though his American popularity was declining in 1957, he remained 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.
Later career influences
Ray had a close relationship with journalist and television game show panelist Dorothy Kilgallen. They became acquainted soon after his sudden rise to stardom in the United States. They remained close as his American career declined. Two months before Kilgallen's death in 1965, her newspaper column plugged Ray's engagements at the Latin Quarter (nightclub) in New York and the Tropicana Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. He began his engagement at the Latin Quarter immediately after an eight-month vacation in Spain during which he and new manager Bill Franklin had extricated themselves from contracts with Bernie Lang, who had managed Ray from 1951 to 1963. Ray and Franklin believed that a dishonest Lang had been responsible for the end of Ray's stardom in the United States and for large debts that he owed the Internal Revenue Service.
In early 1969, Ray befriended Judy Garland, performing as her opening act during her last concerts in Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden. Ray was also the best man during Garland's wedding to nightclub manager Mickey Deans in London.
In the early 1970s, Johnnie Ray's American career revived to a limited extent, as he had not released a record album or single for more than ten years. He made network television appearances on The Andy Williams Show in 1970 and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson three times during 1972 and 1973. His personal manager Bill Franklin resigned in 1976 and cut off contact with the singer a few years later. His American revival turned out to be short-lived. He signed with manager Alan Eichler and resumed performing with an "instrumental quartet," as The New York Times described it, instead of the orchestras that had backed him for 25 years. When Ray and the quartet performed at a New York club called Marty's, located at Third Avenue and East 73rd Street, the May 22, 1981 edition of that newspaper said:
The fact that Mr. Ray, in the years since his first blush of success, has been seen and heard so infrequently in the United States is somewhat ironic because it was his rhythm and blues style of singing that help lay the groundwork for the rock-and-roll that turned Mr. Ray's entertainment world around. Recently, Ringo Starr of the Beatles pointed out that the three singers that the Beatles listened to in their fledgling days were Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Johnnie Ray.
By the 1980s, Ray's career had began to decline. Some writers suggested that the reason American entertainment bookers and songwriters largely ignored him was because they simply did not know who he was, or what his sound was like. Ray generally played in small venues in the United States. In 1986, he appeared in Billy Idol's "Don't Need a Gun," video and is name-checked in the lyrics of the song. While his popularity had declined in the United States, his popularity abroad continued. Australian, English and Scottish promoters booked him for their large venues as late as 1989, his last year of performing.
After his death, several close friends publicly revealed that Ray was gay. Other friends vehemently denied this claim as did Ray, but rumors about his sexuality began to arise when he was arrested for soliciting men for sex. He was first arrested in Detroit in 1951 after soliciting a man for sex in the restroom of the Stone Theatre, a burlesque house in Detroit. As Ray's career had yet to take off, the story was not reported in newspapers and very few people outside Detroit knew about it. Ray quietly pleaded guilty and paid a fine. In 1959, Ray was arrested in Detroit for soliciting an undercover officer in a bar called the Brass Rail, which has been described variously as attracting traveling musicians and attracting gay people. Ray went to trial following the second arrest and was found not guilty.
Despite her knowledge of the 1951 arrest, Marilyn Morrison, daughter of the owner of the Mocambo nightclub in West Hollywood, California, married Ray on May 25, 1952. The wedding ceremony took place in New York a short time after he gave his first New York concert, which was at the Copacabana. New York mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri and his wife were among the guests who attended the ceremony. Morrison was aware of the singer's sexuality from the start, telling a friend she would "straighten it out." The couple separated in January 1953 and divorced in 1954. Several writers have noted that the Ray-Morrison marriage occurred under false pretenses, and that Ray had a long-term relationship with his manager, Bill Franklin. Ray later blamed rumors about his sexuality for the breakup of his marriage to Morrison.
Ray also had a long term romantic relationship with newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen who was married to producer Richard Kollmar. In a 1976 interview with Kilgallen's biographer Lee Israel, Ray said he met Kilgallen for the first time during one of his two appearances as the mystery guest on What's My Line? in 1954. After Israel's book was published, others came forward saying that their relationship had begun after Kilgallen interviewed him in 1952. The relationship, which was heavily publicized in the press, lasted until Kilgallen's death in 1965. Ray's friends later said that Kilgallen's death devastated Ray and, despite his sexuality, she was the only woman he truly loved.
Later years and death
Ray had been a heavy drinker since his teens. In 1960, he was hospitalized after contracting tuberculosis. After his recovery, Ray resumed drinking heavily. After the death of Dorothy Kilgallen in 1965, Ray's drinking worsened and he was diagnosed with cirrhosis at age fifty. He stopped drinking for a time and began to regain his health. After doctors informed him that he was well enough to drink an occasional glass of wine, Ray resumed drinking heavily and his health quickly began to decline. He continued touring until early 1990 when poor health forced him to check into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. On February 24, 1990, he died of liver failure at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. He is buried at Hopewell Cemetery near Hopewell, Oregon.
In popular culture
Archival footage from 1954 of Ray was featured in the 1982 video for Dexys Midnight Runners' single "Come On Eileen". The lyrics of the song also mention him: "Poor old Johnnie Ray sounded sad upon the radio / He moved a million hearts in mono." Ray is one of the cultural touchstones mentioned in the first verse (concerning events from the late 1940s and early 1950s) of Billy Joel's 1989 hit single "We Didn't Start the Fire", between Red China and South Pacific.
In 1994, Barricade Books published the biography Cry--The Johnnie Ray Story, by music writer Johnny Whiteside in 1994 
In 1999, Bear Family Records issued two five CD sets of his entire body of work, each containing an 84-page book on his career. Companies like Sony and Collectables have kept his large catalogue of recordings in continual release around the world.
- Johnnie Ray (Columbia, 1952)
- Johnnie Ray At The Palladium (Philips Records, United Kingdom, 1954)
- I Cry For You (Columbia, 1955)
- The Big Beat (Columbia, 1957)
- At the Desert Inn in Las Vegas (Columbia, 1958)
- 'Till Morning (Columbia, 1958)
- On The Trail (Columbia, 1959)
- A Sinner Am I (Philips Records, United Kingdom, 1959)
- Johnny Ray's Greatest Hits (Columbia Records, CL 1227)
- 20 Golden Greats (Columbia Records & Warwick Records, UK PR 5065 - 1979)
- Cry (Bear Family Records, 1999)
- Yes Tonight, Josephine (Bear Family Records, 1999)
|1954||There's No Business Like Show Business||Steve Donahue|
|1968||Rogues' Gallery||Police officer|
|1953||The Jack Benny Program||Johnnie Ray||Episode: "Johnnie Ray Show"|
|1953–1959||Toast of the Town||Himself||7 episodes|
|1954-1955||The Colgate Comedy Hour||Himself – singer||2 episodes|
|1954-1957||What's My Line?||Himself (Mystery guest)||2 episodes|
|1955||The Martha Raye Show||Himself||Episode #3.4|
|1955||General Electric Theater||Johnny Pulaski||Episode: "The Big Shot"|
|1955||Shower of Stars||Himself||Episode: "That's Life"|
|1955-1960||Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium||Himself||2 episodes|
|1955-1957||The Jackie Gleason Show||Guest Host||4 episodes|
|1956||The Jimmy Durante Show||Himself – singer||Episode #2.23
Credited as Johnny Ray
|1956||Frankie Laine Time||Himself||Episode #2.5|
|1957||A Santa for Christmas||Television movie|
|1957||The Big Record||Himself||Episode #1.11|
|1958||The Dick Clark Show||Himself||Episode #1.1|
|1958||The Garry Moore Show||Himself||Episode #1.8|
|1959||The Patti Page Oldsmobile Show||Himself||Episode #1.16|
|1959||Johnnie Ray Sings||Himself – Singer/Host||Television special|
|1962||The Jack Paar Tonight Show||Himself||Episode #5.194|
|1963||American Bandstand||Himself||Episode #6.121|
|1967||The Woody Woodbury Show||Himself||Episode #1.16|
|1968||The Hollywood Palace||Himself||Episode #5.16|
|1968||Frost on Sunday||Himself||Episode #1.19|
|1968-1969||The Joey Bishop Show||Himself||3 episodes|
|1970||The David Frost Show||Himself||Episode #2.129|
|1970||The Andy Williams Show||Himself||October 10, 1970 episode|
|1970-1973||The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson||Himself||3 episodes|
|1972||The ABC Comedy Hour||Himself||Episode: "The Twentieth Century Follies"|
|1974||The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club||Himself||Episode #1.11|
|1977||Sha Na Na||Himself||Episode #1.17|
|1977||American Bandstand's 25th Anniversary||Himself||Television special|
|1977||All You Need Is Love||Himself||Episode: "Good Times: Rhythm and Blues"|
|1977||Fall In, the Stars||Himself||Television special|
|1977||The Merv Griffin Show||Himself||September 21, 1977 episode|
|1979||Juke Box Saturday Night||Himself||Television special|
|1987||Royal Variety Performance 1987||Himself||Television special|
|“||The mambo craze is passing and rhythm and blues will pass away too – the sooner the better as far as I'm concerned.||”|
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