John Alvin Ray (January 10, 1927 – February 24, 1990), known as Johnnie Ray, was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Highly popular for most of the 1950s, Ray has been cited by critics as a major precursor to what would become rock and roll, for his jazz and blues-influenced music and his animated stage personality. Tony Bennett called Ray the "father of rock and roll," and historians have noted him as a pioneering figure in the development of the genre.
Raised in Oregon, Ray, who was partially deaf, began singing professionally at age fifteen on Portland radio stations. He would later gain a local following singing at small, predominantly African-American nightclubs in Detroit, where he was discovered in 1951 and subsequently signed to Columbia Records. He rose quickly from obscurity in the United States with the release of his debut album, Johnnie Ray (1952), as well as with a 78 rpm single, both of whose sides reached the Billboard magazine's Top Hot 100 songs of 1952: "Cry" and "The Little White Cloud That Cried".
In 1954, Ray made his first and only major motion picture, There's No Business Like Show Business, in which he, Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe and others were part of an ensemble cast. His career in his native United States began to decline in 1957, and his American record label dropped him in 1960. He never regained a strong following there and rarely appeared on American television after 1973. His fanbases in the United Kingdom and Australia, however, remained strong until his death in 1990 of complications from liver failure.
Links to Peel
Peel mentioned on his 11 February 1986 show that the second gig in his life he'd been to was Johnnie Ray at the Liverpool Empire; The first was the Obernkirchen Children's Choir. However, whilst talking to John Walters on Peeling Back The Years, he mentioned that it wasn't his second gig in his life, but his third live gig that he went to see Johnnie Ray. Peel was also surprised that his parents allowed him to see him perform:
"Well, Johnnie Ray was not the first gig, nor indeed the second gig that I went to, but the third live gig that I went to was Johnnie Ray. But he was seen of course as perfectly outrageous, and I was surprised that my parents let me go and see him. They hadn’t read the popular press at the time, because he was seen as the “Nabob of Sob”, and he had a whole range of preposterous nicknames because he carried on in such an emotional way on stage. Very un-British."
Peel also said on the same programme that Johnnie Ray also attracted a vast number of screaming bobbysoxers. On another show, broadcast on 03 August 1987, Peel mentioned that Johnnie Ray's Such A Night (one of the UK Singles Chart Number Ones in 1954), was banned when it originally came out because it was "too shocking." ("Bet that had your nostrils flaring," JP said after the song was played.)
- 03 July 2002: Cry (LP - Showcase Of Hits) Philips