The Midnighters

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This article is about the original R&B vocal group featuring Hank Ballard. For the East Los Angeles-based Chicano Rock band, see Thee Midniters.
The Midnighters
Origin Detroit, Michigan, United States
Genres Rock and roll, R&B, Doo-wop
Labels Federal, King, People
Past members Johnny Otis
Jackie "Sonny" Wilson
Little Willie John
Levi Stubbs
Alonzo Tucker
Freddy Pride
Hank Ballard
Henry Booth
Charles Sutton
Lawson Smith
Ardra “Sonny” Woods
Norman Thrasher
Arthur Porter
Cal Green
J.C. Billy Davis
Walter Miller
Frank Stanford
Wesley Hargrove

The Midnighters were an American R&B group from Detroit, Michigan. They were an influential group in the 1950s and early 1960s, with many R&B hit records. They were also notable for launching the career of lead singer Hank Ballard, and the world-wide dance craze The Twist. Between 1953 and 1962 The Midnighters scored almost two dozen hits on the National Pop & R&B Charts. Their big hits included the million-selling Billboard Top 10 pop hits "Finger Popping Time" (for which they received a 1961 Grammy Award nomination),[1] and "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go".The Midnighters also enjoyed 13 Top 10 R&B Hits,including 3 R&B # 1's. Top 10 R&B hits included Work With Me Annie", "It's Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)", "Annie Had a Baby", "The Hoochi Coochi Coo", "Teardrops On Your Letter", "Get It", "The Float" and "Nothing But Good". They received The Rhythm and Blues Foundation's prestigious Pioneer Award in 1992,[2] and were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999,[3] Lead singer Hank Ballard received a controversial solo induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. The Midnighters as a group were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14, 2012.[4]

The Royals: origin and early years[edit]

The Midnighters actually formed in 1952 as The Royals. This group was formed in Detroit by guitarist and songwriter Alonzo Tucker. Prior to that time, they were known as The Four Falcons, but that was prior to their recording debut.( They had to change that name, as there was already another Detroit-based group with a similar name, The Falcons) . During the groups' early years, such notable future stars as Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John, Freddie Pride, and Levi Stubbs (later to go on to worldwide fame as lead singer of Motown Records group The Four Tops) were members. After several personnel changes,the group finally stabilized, with members Tucker, Henry Booth, Charles Sutton, Sonny Woods, and Lawson Smith. Hank Ballard and Sonny Woods met when they worked on the same Ford auto assembly line in Detroit. They became friends, and when Smith, the group's lead singer, was drafted, Ballard joined the group to take his place. This was the Royals' lineup when they were discovered by legendary bandleader,songwriter, and record producer Johnny Otis in 1953. Otis became the Royals' manager, and obtained a record deal for them with Cincinnati-based King Records on its DeLuxe subsidiary label. Initially, Henry Booth took over Smith's role as lead singer, while Ballard sang back up with Woods, Sutton, and Tucker. Early Royals/Midnighters recordings featuring Henry Booth were doo-wop ballads, including the original version of "Every Beat Of My Heart", written by Otis, (which, years later, became the first million-selling hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips), and "Starting From Tonight" (written by group member Alonzo Tucker). Hank Ballard began writing for the group, and became the group's lead singer, and the group experienced success. They moved to another King Records subsidiary, Federal Records, and "Get It" became their first major R&B hit, spending seven weeks in the Top 10 on the R&B charts, and also selling well in mainstream markets. Also around this time, the group's name. "The Royals", was too similar to another group on the King roster, The "5" Royales, so, as to distinguish themselves from this group, their name was changed to "The Midnighters".

"Get It" was followed by many other hits, all of which featured Ballard on lead vocals. The first record in this series was "Work with Me, Annie", (1953) a controversial song that reached #1 on the Billboard R&B Chart and sold over a million copies. The rest of the "Annie" song series included "Sexy Ways" (# 2 R&B,1954),"Annie Had a Baby" (#1 R&B, and million-seller,1954), "Annie's Aunt Fannie" (#10 R&B,and million-seller, 1954), and "Henry's Got Flat Feet (Can't Dance No More)" (#14 R&B,1955). That particular song was The Midnighters' answer to Etta James' "answer song" to The Midnighters, "(Dance with Me, Henry)" which became her first hit earlier that year. Several of these early Midnighters' hits were banned from airplay by the F.C.C. due to their overtly sexual lyrics. However, despite this, they received massive publicity, and crossed over to the white teenage audience, resulting in massive crossover sales .

Dry spell, comeback, and "The Twist"[edit]

After one more Top 10 R&B hit in 1955 with "It's Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)", The Midnighters went into a hitmaking dry spell that lasted 3-1/2 years. During this time, members came and went: Lawson Smith returned from the U.S. Armed Services, after having been drafted, to replace Charles Sutton, Norman Thrasher replaced Sonny Woods, and guitarist Cal Green replaced Arthur Porter, who had earlier taken the place of original member Alonzo Tucker, who went on to become a successful independent songwriter, penning hits for Jackie Wilson ("Baby Workout", "No Pity (In The Naked City)", "Squeeze Her, Tease Her (But Love Her)", "You Don't Know What It Means", "Years From Now", The Chi-Lites ("Marriage License"), Gladys Knight & The Pips "Every Beat of My Heart",(originally recorded by The Midnighters), The Animals, and others.[5] (Tucker is also the actual, though uncredited, writer of Jackie Wilson's big hit, "Doggin' Around". However, for reasons unknown, Nat Tarnopol, the controversial President of Wilson's record Label, Brunswick Records, placed the name of his as-yet-unborn son Paul Tarnopol's name on the record as writer. This was verified on a telecast of ABC's newsmagazine show 20/20) .[6][7][8] Records on the group were being released during this time, but none were hits. In the meantime, The Midnighters' record label, King, had placed their bets, and their future, on a powerful new vocal group from Georgia: The Famous Flames, featuring lead singers James Brown and Bobby Byrd, who had been influenced by The Midnighters' work.[9]

In 1959, things began to change for the Midnighters. They were about to experience their second wave of success. The group, now called Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, had been switched to the parent label, King Records, and released their first hit in years with "Teardrops On Her Letter". This song, while only reaching # 87 on the Billboard Pop chart, was a Top 10 smash on the R&B chart, peaking at # 4, and re-established The Midnighters as a hit-making force. But, even more significant, was the song's flip-side: a song about a dance entitled "The Twist". This song too was a hit, peaking at # 16 on the R&B Chart. It was destined to be an even bigger hit for the group, when released one year later.

According to the book The Twist, by Jim Dawson, Dave Appell, working for Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe's Cameo-Parkway Records of Philadelphia, wanted to record a version of The Midnighters' hit, "The Twist." Although Ballard was credited as the sole writer of the song, its origins allegedly went back further than that.[10] In the summer of 1960, while serving as bandleader of Cameo-Parkway's house band, Appell wanted to re-record the song, as he saw the song as having hit potential. In the meantime, Dick Clark, the host of ABC's American Bandstand, also noticed how local white teens in Philly were dancing to Hank and The Midnighters' original, and felt the same as Appell. But, having no literal or financial connection to The Midnighters' record label, King Records, Clark had no way to capitalize on The Midnighters' song. Clark gave promotion and airplay to two of The Midnighters records, "Finger Popping Time", and "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" on American Bandstand in exchange for King Records president Syd Nathan giving Clark licensing rights for one of his artists on Cameo Parkway,one Ernest Evans, later to be known as Chubby Checker, to record The Twist. Clark was part owner of Cameo-Parkway, and several other record companies at the time.

2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction[edit]

In 2012, The Midnighters as a group were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A special sub-committee, appointed by the Rock Hall, finally decided to address the issue of deserving pioneering groups that were not inducted in the Hall's early years, when their front men were inducted. As a result of this committee's decision, The Midnighters were automatically inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Hank Ballard,without the normal process of nomination and voting, under the premise that they should have been inducted with Ballard back in 1990. The inducted members were Henry Booth, Cal Green, Arthur Porter, Lawson Smith, Charles Sutton, Norman Thrasher, and Sonny Woods. Original Midnighters Lawson Smith (now known as Abdul Bin-Asad), and Norman Thrasher, the last surviving members of the group, accepted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction on behalf of the group, and acknowledged departed members, including original member and group founder Alonzo Tucker, who, strangely, was not inducted.

In 2015, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters are scheduled to be inducted into the 3rd class of the Official Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in Cleveland .[11]


Charted singles[edit]

  • Note: Credited as Hank Ballard and the Midnighters unless stated otherwise.
Year Single Chart Positions
US Pop[12] US
1953 "Get It"
The Royals
- 6
1954 "Work with Me, Annie"
The Midnighters
- 1
"Sexy Ways"
The Midnighters
- 2
"Annie Had a Baby"
The Midnighters
- 1
"Annie's Aunt Fannie"
The Midnighters
- 10
1955 "Henry's Got Flat Feet (Can't Dance No More)"
The Midnighters
- 14
"It's Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)"
The Midnighters
- 10
1959 "Teardrops On Your Letter" /
"The Twist"
"Kansas City" 72 16
1960 "The Coffee Grind" - 21
"Finger Poppin' Time" 7 2
"The Twist" (re-issue) 28 6
"Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" 6 1
1961 "The Hoochi Coochi Coo" 23 3
"Let's Go Again (Where We Went Last Night)" 39 17
"The Continental Walk" 33 12
"The Switch-A-Roo" /
"The Float"
"Nothing But Good" /
"Keep On Dancing"
1962 "Do You Know How to Twist" 87 -
1968 "How You Gonna Get Respect (When You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet)"
Hank Ballard with The Dapps
- 15
1969 "From the Love Side"
Hank Ballard and the Midnight Lighters
- 43


  1. ^ "1961 Grammy Awards". 2012-09-13. Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  2. ^ "Hank Ballard and the Midnighters Profile - History of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters - Hank Ballard Songs, Biography, and Trivia". Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  3. ^ "Hank Ballard & The Midnighters - Inductees - The Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundationt". Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  4. ^ Andy Greene (2012-02-09). "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Adds Six Backing Groups to the Class of 2012 | Music News". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  5. ^ "Alonzo Tucker Discography at Discogs". Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  6. ^ Jackie Wilson: Lonely Teardrops By Tony Douglas, Page 74
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Hank Ballard and the Midnighters". 2003-03-02. Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  10. ^ "The Twist by Jim Dawson,1995, pages 21-29 ISBN 0 571 19852 x
  11. ^
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 36. ISBN 0-89820-155-1. 
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 20. 

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