Jackie Wilson (left) and Johnny Ace (Right)

Did You Know Two Originators of R&B Were Born on This Day?

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This Day In History: June 9th

Early rhythm and blues performers, Johnny Ace and Jackie Wilson, rose to popularity with hits such as “My Song” and “Lonely Teardrops.” Outside of being soulful voices during the 1950s, the two musicians also share the same birthday on  June 9.

John “Johnny Ace” Alexander was born on June 9, 1929, in Memphis, Tennessee. Prior to getting his start in music, he served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. Following his time in the Navy, Alexander joined a band and worked his way to a position in B.B. King’s band. However, Alexander eventually took over vocal duties and renamed the band the Beale Streeters after both King and the band’s singer left the group. 

During this time, Alexander also began performing under the moniker, Johnny Ace. By 1952, Johnny Ace was a signed artist with Duke Records and he released “My Song,” which managed to top the R&B charts. The success of the song allowed him to tour with Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. He solidified his status as a top talent by recording a string of hits such as  “Cross My Heart,” “Yes, Baby,” and “Never Let Me Go.”

Although Johnny Ace was at the top of the charts, his career came to an early tragic end. The singer died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. Johnny Ace died on December 25, 1954, at the age of 25. His impact on the music industry has since been remembered by the likes of Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley

Jack Leroy Wilson Jr., or “Mr. Excitement,” entered the world five years after Johnny Ace on June 9, 1934. Wilson was born in Detroit, Michigan, and explored the boxing field before entering the music business. He began his singing career as a gospel artist and was discovered by Johnny Otis in 1951. He got his first big opportunity in 1953 when he became the lead singer in Billy Ward’s R&B group, The Dominoes.  

Wilson began his solo career and signed to Brunswick record label in 1957 before releasing his first single “Reet Petite.” He collaborated with Berry Gordy on the single and the two also worked together on singles including “To Be Loved” and “That’s Why (I Love You So).” Wilson was able to successfully blend the styles of rhythm and blues with soul and rock ‘n roll to find crossover appeal.

He topped the R&B and pop charts for the first time in 1958 with the single, “Lonely Teardrops.” During the 1960’s Wilson recorded other hits which include “Night,” “Doggin’ Around,” and “Baby Workout.” He released his final major recording,  “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” in 1967. 

Similar to fellow talent Johnny Ace, Wilson’s career also came to an abrupt end. He collapsed while performing onstage in 1975 and remained in a coma for eight years. The singer died on January 21, 1984, at  49 years old. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three years later. 

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