Graham Reid | | 1 min read
The list of those 27-year olds who went to join what Kurt Cobain's mother called "that stupid club" has just received Amy Winehouse, and when she died there were any number of writers who noted the list of those of that age who'd gone: Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Jimi, Janis, Jim, Badfinger's Pete Ham . . .
And of course Jesse.
Jesse Belvin was one of the most gifted writers and singers of his generation when he was killed in a car crash at age 27 which also took his 25-year old wife Jo Anne (who wrote Who Knows).
Belvin was a stylist in the manner of Nat King Cole and Etta James called him "the most gifted of all . . . even now I consider him the greatest singer of my generation. Rhythm and blues, rock and roll, crooner, you name it. He was going to be bigger than Sam Cooke, bigger than Nat Cole."
The circumstances of Belvin's death in 1960 -- in Bill Clinton's hometown of Hope, Arkansas -- are especilly tragic.
He had been on a bill with Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and they were scheduled to play to a segregatd audience in Little Rock. Wilson refused and, after death threats, the concert went ahead, although was constantly interrupted by racist taunts. After the show they were ushered out of town. Run out of town some say -- and there was the allegation that Belvin's tyres had been slashed, which explained the fatal head-on collision.
Belvin was a great talent cut short. He came out of Texarkana in Arkansas and at 16 he was singing with the Big Jay McNelly's Orchestra and his first recording with them, All the Wine is Gone, went top 20. He wrote the classic Earth Angel and formed a quartet with the young Johnny Guitar Watson (the Shields, who had a top 20 hit with You Cheated) and he was signed to RCA.
Everyone expected his silken vocals to take him to the top.
His debut album Just Jesse Belvin included smooth standards (Secret Love, a truly sickly version of Ol' Man River, Witchcraft, My Funny Valentine etc) and the orchestrations were by Ray Martin, Shorty Rogers and Dennis Farnon.
He was being groomed to cross over to white audiences.
On the album's liner notes Lee Zhito of Billboard wrote, "From time to time meteoric artists have streaked across the showbusiness horizon to burst in one dazzling display and disappear. Jesse Belvin is among the rare, durable talents who is destined to remain as a permanent member of that galaxy."
In fact he was both.
He streaked across the horizon in a dazzling display and then -- like Jimi and Janis and Jim and Kurt and Amy et al -- became a permanent member of the galaxy.
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