(BONUS SECTION ADDED ON JUNE 23, 2021)
Above: Johnny Ace was a rhythm and blues singer, played the piano and organ, and composed songs. During his shortened life, all six of his records released on the Duke label were hits on the rhythm and blues charts, starting in June 1952 and until his death in December 1954. His most famous song, "Pledging My Love," also on Duke, was released shortly after his death and became a huge hit on both the rhythm and blues and popular charts in 1955.
CALIFORNIA EAGLE NEWSPAPER, November 20, 1952: JOHNNY ACE STAR OF NEW ALABAM SHOW
Joe Morris' New Club Alabam opened a fast moving revue last Tuesday night that should find capacity houses during its week run. Headed by singing star Johnny Ace, whose "My Song" is currently tops in Billboard rating, the show moves smoothly with a nice mixture of jump, jive, comedy, and the silk-smooth singing of Johnny Ace.
The show is paced by Jimmy "Night Train" Forrest's band. They rocked the joint with several instrumental numbers. The ever popular comedy team of Foxx and White amuses the customers with fast patter and song and dance routines. Gene Bell's educated feet set the stage for the star of the show, Johnny Ace.
In a manner slightly reminiscent of King Cole, Johnny Ace toys with the piano while giving full play to his very smooth delivery. His ballads have a blues kick that make them distinctive.
Bill Day emcees the show. The Club Alabam can be heard nightly over station KWKW from 11:00 until 11:30 every night.
NEW YORK AGE, February 13, 1954: JOHNNY ACE DISCS HITS
HOUSTONJohnny "My Song" Ace, phenomenal young Duke recording artist, recently interrupted his tour on package with Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton in Columbia, S.C. to fulfill a recording date with Johnny Otis at Peacock Studios. After the waxing session Johnny flew via TWA to rejoin his unit in Pensacola, Fla. The Ace-Thornton package is scheduled to play the Apollo in New York come April and will mark their second stint there in six months..
Above: The Beale Streeters (L-R) Earl Forest (drums), Adolph "Billy" Duncan (tenor sax), Bobby Bland (vocals), and John Alexander [aka Johnny Ace] (piano).
At Left: Don Robey, President of Peacock Records, at one of his pressing plants.
THE CASH BOX, August 2, 1952: HOUSTON, July 26Peacock Records, the r.&b. indie headed here by Don Robey and Irving Marcus, has taken over the Memphis-based plattery, Duke Records. The new Duke firm is headed by Robey, Marcus and David Mattis of Tri-State Recording. Peacock will continue to issue wax under the Duke label as well as its own r.&b. and spiritual platters.
Duke will be operated in the same manner as Peacock, with one pressing plant in the East, one in the South and one in California. Peacock has been strong in the spiritual market for the past few years and has recently branched out into the r.&b. wax field.
First releases on Duke include "My Song" by Johnny Ace, "Baby Baby" and "Rock The Bottle" by Earl Forest, and "T Model Boogie" by Roscoe Gordon. Latter represents one of the most valuable properties acquired in the deal, with Gordon now under exclusive contract to Duke, according to officials of that company.
(NOTE: The most valuable asset, of course, turned out to be Johnny Ace.)
TRADE MAGAZINE, August 1952: NEW YORKOne of the most active rooms at the recent NAMM convention here was the Peacock Records suite, where Don Robey and Irving Marcus were kept busy with a contant stream of visiting publishers, distributors and deejays. Object of all this excitement was the Johnny Ace slicing of "My Song," which Peacock took over when it purchased the Duke label. Distribs who listened to this disk placed orders that soon mounted to a staggering total of 43,000 in the first three days of the meet. In order to keep pace with the sales, Peacock has three pressing plants working around the clock....
Meanwhile Ace's waxing is riding high on the national r.&b. charts and has caused a flock of cover waxings of the hit tune. Okeh has cut the song with thrush Hadda Brooks, Mercury with jukebox "Queen" Dinah Washington, and Peacock with Marie Adams. This is the first r.&b. ditty that has spurred this many versions in a long time.
Above: Clipping from June 1952 extolling competing versions of "My Song" by Johnny Ace and Marie Adams, done for affiliated record companies (Peacock/Duke). "My Song" was composed by David James Mattis, owner/operator of the Duke label at the time. After Ace's death, Marie Adams sang on one of his tribute records (see near bottom of this page).
Listen to "My Song" - Johnny Ace - Duke 102 - 1952 (Windows Media Player).
Listen to "My Song" - Marie Adams - Peacock 1604 - 1952 (Windows Media Player).
BOTH played in sequence.
Above: Clippings for "My Song" from (Left) August 1952, (Middle) August 1952, and (Right) November 1952.
"My Song" by Johnny Ace was released on Duke 102 in June 1952.
The Cash Box Award O' The Week (8/6/52): JOHNNY ACE DUKE 102.... My Song/Follow The Rule
Here's a new artist with a new style and a great new song that stands a very good chance of becoming the top Rhythm & Blues piece of the year. The artist is the smooth voiced Johnny Ace and the hit number is tagged "My Song." The tune is a tender and expressive ballad that has the slow and fitting background of the Beale Streeters. Rhythm and sax accompaniment make this deck a solid one. Johnny chants softly through some parts of the number and shows lots of oomph in his voice when he belts out the resounding bars of the blues item. The lower lid is a rhythmic bouncer which was written by Johnny. Here the Beale Streeters set up a grand instrumental backdrop for the chanter. The number is a torrid exhibition of fine rhythm but we go for the top side which is sure to be all over the "HOT" charts in no time.
Listen to "My Song" - Johnny Ace - Duke 102 - 1952 (Windows Media Player).
Above: Clippings for "Cross My Heart" from (Left) January 1953 and (Right) February 1953.
"Cross My Heart"/"Angel" by Johnny Ace was released on Duke 107 in January 1953. The labels show composers on both sides as "D. James" (David J. Mattis) and "J. Ace" (Johnny Ace).
The Billboard Review (1/17/53): JOHNNY ACE DUKE 107....
Cross My Heart (85) Johnny Ace's first waxing since the smash hit "My Song," is another powerful slicing. The warbler turns in a sincere and moving rendition of a pretty slow-tempo ballad, over an attractive ork arrangement. Side is potent and should be a real coin-grabber for the young warbler.
Angel (80) Another strong side by Ace, tho not quite as potent as the flip. It's also a slow ballad and the warbler hands it his usual meaningful vocal. Backing is smooth. This side too should rate spins and plays.
(NOTE: A ratings range of 80-89 was considered "excellent.")
The Cash Box Award O' The Week (1/17/53): JOHNNY ACE DUKE 107.... Cross My Heart/Angel
The long awaited Johnny Ace follow up to his "My Song" has now hit the market and it looks like Ace has another hit tune. Titled "Cross My Heart," the tune is a slow beat romantic ballad blues that is Johnny's best type of material. Ace not only sings the song, but collaborated as writer. The blues singer's host of followers, picked up as a result of his previous smash disking, will find the artist sticking very much to the straight, sincere, and warm delivery that helped put him up with the leading blues chanters in the nation. His effortless and caressing manner of reading the lyrics, plus the pretty melody and deft orking of the Beale Streeters, makes this another No. 1 possibilty. The flip deck is another slow item, romantically inclined, titled "Angel." This is another lovely item, sentimentally presented. Another pleasing and relaxing deck.
Listen to "Cross My Heart" - Johnny Ace - Duke 107 - 1953 (Windows Media Player).
Listen to "Angel" - Johnny Ace - Duke 107 - 1953 (Windows Media Player).
Above: Picture cropped from the cover of The Cash Box magazine dated October 3, 1953.
Caption With Picture: Johnny Ace, whose Duke version of "The Clock" is his third hit in a row, is pictured here receiving a gold clock from George Miller, president of the Music Operators of America. The clock was presented on behalf of the nation's juke box operators honoring Johnny for the three hits which together have sold over a million records. The first two were "My Song" and "Cross My Heart." Left to right are: Bob Chatton of Chatton Distributing in Oakland, Calif.; Irv Marcus, national sales manager of Duke and Peacock Records; Johnny Ace; Dan Shea of Operators' Record Service in San Francisco; George Miller, president of MOA; Irv Shorten of Allied Distributing in Los Angeles; and Don D. Robey, president of Duke and Peacock. (NOTE: There are eight people in the picture, but only seven are identified in the caption.)
Above: Clippings for "The Clock" both from June 1953.
Listen to "The Clock" - Johnny Ace - Duke 112 - 1953 (Windows Media Player).
At Left: Label Image for "Mid Night Hours Journey" which was released on Flair 1015 in September 1953. The flip is a vocal by Earl Forest, possibly from the same session.
The matrix number (133) indicates a recording date in September 1953. However, this side was probably recorded in early 1952 by "The Beale Streeters" when Johnny Ace was still known as John Alexander. The track had been obtained by the Bihari Brothers, who owned the Modern Music label, and was eventually released on their Flair label after Johnny Ace became an established star.
The Billboard Review (9/19/53): JOHNNY ACE FLAIR 1015....
Midnight Hours Journey (74) This doesn't sound like the Johnny Ace now on Duke Records, but it may have been made a while ago. Under any circumstances it is an effective performance and it should pull spins and loot on the basis of the name, if for no other reason.
(NOTE: A ratings range of 70-79 was considered "good.")
Listen to "Mid Night Hours Journey" - Johnny Ace - Flair 1015 - 1953 (Windows Media Player)..
At Left: Clipping from NEW YORK AGE newspaper dated 10/24/53.
NEW YORK AGE, October 24, 1953: JOHNNY ACE AND 'BIG MAMA' THORNTON
ARE HEADLINERs IN NEW APOLLO REVUE
Two of the hottest record personalities in the country, Willie Mae ("Hound Dog") Thornton and Johnny ("The Clock") Ace making his first local appearance, headline the new show coming to the 125th St. Apollo Theatre this Friday, Oct. 23. The Bill Johnson and Tab Smith orchestras, George Holmes, the Wallace Brothers, "Crackshot" Hackley and his comedy group, and Princess Tall Chief round out the show.
Willie Mae Thornton, better known as "Big Mama" has the distinction of cutting the hottest rhythm and blues disk of 1953, "You Ain't Nothin' But A Hound Dog." A sensational performer, ex-Johnny Otis thrush is a perennial favorite at the Apollo.
Johnny Ace makes his long-awaited debut at the Apollo, and the piano-playing singer is right at his peak. His fans should be out in force at the Apollo this Friday.
Above: (Left) Johnny Ace and (Right) "Please Forgive Me" clipping from May 1954. Note the "ace of hearts" border.
Listen to "Please Forgive Me" - Johnny Ace - Duke 128 - 1954 (Windows Media Player).
THIS BONUS SECTION ADDED ON JUNE 23, 2021
Above Left: Label image for Duke 118, this side recorded on January 28, 1953. The flip, "Yes Baby" (a duet with Willie Mae Thornton), was probably recorded on the same day, based on the consecutive matrix numbers.
Ferdinand Washington and Don Robey (president of Duke and Peacock) composed the "Saving..." side. They also composed "Pledging My Love". Washington was a professional song-writer, who later composed "I'll Be Home" (The Flamingos). Johnny Ace is credited with writing the "Yes Baby" side.
Above Middle: Label image for Duke 132, this side recorded on July 27, 1954. Joseph Wade Scott, who played trumpet on some of Johnny Ace's records, gets composer credit. The flip, "Burley Cutie", is an instrumental composed by Johnny Ace, as John Alexander.
Above Right: Label image for Duke 148, this side recorded on January 27, 1954 and the flip, "I'm Crazy Baby" on July 22, 1954. "So Lonely" was composed by Johnny Ace, as John Alexander. The flip-side was written by C.C. Pinkton, a drummer who played on some of Johnny Ace's records.
Above Left: LEXINGTON HERALD (Kentucky), February 25, 1953.
Above Right: Photo of Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton.
Above Left: THE CASH BOX REVIEW, December 12, 1953.
Above Left: THE CASH BOX, February 12, 1955.
The Billboard Review Spotlight (9/18/54):JOHNNY ACE Duke 132.... Never Let Me Go
Johnny Ace sings this new ballad with his usual sincerity and the record has a chance for the big time. Flip is an instrumental "Burley Cutie".
The Billboard Review Spotlight (1/21/56):JOHNNY ACE Duke 148....
I'm Crazy Baby/So Lonely The late great Johnny Ace lives on as the label brings out two fine sides cut shortly before his death. On top is an exciting, emotion-packed love ballad. The flip contains some wonderful blues sounds in the typical Johnny Ace style. These are two classy efforts with loads of commercial appeal.
LISTEN (Windows Media Player):
1. "Saving My Love For You" - Johnny Ace - Duke 118 - 1953.
2. "Yes Baby" - Johnny Ace And Willie Mae Thornton - Duke 118 - 1953.
3. "Never Let Me Go" - Johnny Ace - Duke 132 - 1954.
4. "So Lonely" - Johnny Ace - Duke 148 - 1955.
5. "I'm Crazy Baby" - Johnny Ace - Duke 148 - 1955.
ALL FIVE SONGS played in sequence.
"Pledging My Love" by Johnny Ace was released on Duke 136 in January 1955.
The Cash Box Award O' The Week (1/15/55): JOHNNY ACE DUKE 136....
Pledging My Love/No Money
Johnny Ace, who has hit with eight successive releases, will probably have his greatest in this, "Pledging My Love," released just prior to his untimely death, Christmas Eve. While the accident will no doubt be the cause of many sales, the etching has what it takes to hit the peak on merit alone. A lovely melody, simple and easy to remember, it will no doubt receive pop coverage. The refrain has a haunting quality that sticks with you. Can't miss. The flip, "No Money," is a rhythmic uptempo bouncer that Ace wails effectively. However, it's a strict one-sider. "Pledging My Love" will go all the way.
The Billboard Best Buy (1/15/55): JOHNNY ACE DUKE 136....
Pledging My Love
The recent death of Ace gave added impetus to what would probably have been heavy first week sales in any case. It is spiraling upwards at dazzling speed, and is almost as popular with pop customers, as with r.&b. Flip is "No Money."
(NOTE: The Billboard dated 1/22/55 gave "Pledging My Love" a rating of 95 "tops"!)
Listen to "Pledging My Love" - Johnny Ace - Duke 136 - 1955 (Windows Media Player).
Above: THE CASH BOX, March 26, 1955:
NEW YORKAs the late Johnny Ace's Duke recording of "Pledging My Love" heads up the charts, local record shops hop on the band wagon with huge display cards in their windows.
Viewing the promotion piece in front of the Colony record shop are (L-R) Sid Turk; Nappy Grossblatt, owner; Marty Block, manager; and Irv Marcus, national sales manager of Duke and Peacock Records.
Outside the Tin Pan Alley shop are Herb Goldsen, Sid Hechtman, Irv Marcus, and Gene St. John.
(NOTE: Interestingly, very few advertisement by Peacock/Duke for "Pledging My Love" could be found in either The Cash Box or The Billboard magazines.)
VINTAGE GROUP HARMONY SHOWTRIBUTE TO JOHNNY ACE:
Listen to a radio show of Johnny Ace records using Windows Media Player: Stream/Download
[To download the audio file, right-click on the "Download" link and then select "Save link (target) as..."]
THE UNTIMELY DEATH OF JOHNNY ACE:
PREFACERegarding the term "Russian Roulette" that the newspapers used at the time, the evidence is strong that Johnny Ace was not aware there was a bullet in the gun. He repeatedly told the others in the room that it was unloaded. Unfortunately, he was proved to be wrong when he put the gun to his head. Ace, at 25 years old, died on Christmas Day 1954. It may never be known for sure exactly what happened, but please take the following articles with "a few grains of salt."
BUFFALO COURIER EXPRESS, December 27, 1954: GUN FUN FATAL TO BANDLEADER
HOUSTON, Tex., Dec. 26 (UP)A Memphis (Tenn.) bandleader was shot to death playing Russian roulette last night while holding a pretty girl on his lap during a dressing room party. Police said John Alexander, 26 [sic], leader and featured singer of Johnny Ace's band, and four companions, including a young woman, had gone to the dressing room soon after the band leader had sung a song.
They said Alexander took a seven-shot 22-caliber revolver and put one shell into the cylinder. According to the detectives, Alexander would spin the cylinder, put the gun to the head of one of the companions and pull the trigger. Each time the bullet failed to come to the chamber.
The last time Alexander tried it, however, he sat down and pulled the girl on his lap and put the gun to his head after spinning the cylinder, police said. When he pulled the trigger, the revolver fired.
PITTSBURGH COURIER, February 5, 1955: ACE DIED BECAUSE HE LOVED TO PLAY PRANKS, SAYS GIRL
Olivia Gibbs HOUSTON, Tex.He trumped his own ace...and drew a bigger crowd to his funeral than he ever did to his dances. Johnny Ace, whose blues-shouting was bringing him fame and fortune, snuffed out his own life ina game of Russian roulette. The bullet really had "Johnny Ace" written all over it because the slug fell out of the gun and was replaced. Ace snapped the gun at several other personswho are alive to talk about it. Then he placed the gun to his templeand they carried his body back to the cradle of the Blues, Memphis....
Olivia Gibbs (picture at left), fiancee of Ace (who at the time of his death was still married), ....gives the eye-witness story of Johnny Ace's "winner take all" bout with Russian roulette. Johnny lost. Miss Gibbs stated that on the morning of the shooting Johnny had been drinking and playing with a .22 caliber revolver. She made him stop. Then he displayed the diamond ring Miss Gibbs had given him for Christmas. Later he carved the turkey and was in good spirits.
At the dance in City Auditorium Ace complained of a toothache and expressed doubt that he could go on with the dance after intermission, although 2,000 of his fans were in the hall. Then he started playing with the pistol again. He went around snapping it at peopleand time was growing short. Willie Mae Thornton, a blues singer, said she prevailed upon Ace to give her the gun after he had snapped it at herself, Miss Gibbs and Joe Hammond, another singer. Miss Thornton said she turned a chamber and a bullet fell out.
Johnny Ace continued to snap the gun at others in the dressing room. Finally, Joe Hammond said "You snapped it at everyone else, try it on yourself." "Now watch me," said Johnny, "show you it won't shoot." With his arm around Olivia Gibbs, Johnny placed the gun to his temple. Crack! went the gun. Ace fell to the floor mortally wounded.
"I thought he was just up to his usual playing until I raised his head and saw blood." said Olivia. "I loved Johnny and he loved me. He had been separated from his wife since 1952 and hoped for a divorce clearance by June of this year. Then we would have been married." She stated that she was not involved in the separation of Ace and his wife. "I'll miss those nightly phone calls. He called me every night when he was on the road, as if he wanted to hear me for inspiration before he went on the stage.
Olivia Gibbs is lucky to be alive because her head was against that of Johnny Ace when he pulled the triggerbut the fact that the revolver was of small caliber saved her life. The slug stayed in Ace's brain....
(NOTE: Does the above article make any sense? I suspect that Miss Gibbs was well paid for an "engrossing" story.)
PITTSBURGH COURIER, January 15, 1955:
FINAL NOTEMembers of the Johnny Ace band leave Memphis' Clayborn Temple
AME Church with the body of their deceased leader.
The first tribute record was Hollywood 1031, "Johnny Ace's Last Letter" by Frankie Irvin and "Why Johnny Why?" by Linda Hayes, both sides backed by Johnny Moore's Blazers. Aladdin also released "Johnny Ace's Last Letter" by Johnny Fuller on Aladdin 3278. Patti Jerome provided a third version of "Johnny Has Gone" on Josie 774.
The Billboard Review Spotlight (2/5/55): VARETTA DILLARD SAVOY 1153....
Johnny Has GoneHere's the first [sic] in what may well turn out to be a series of wax tributes to the late Johnny Ace. The canary warmly sings the clever special lyrics written to include the titles of Ace's old hits. The melody is familiar. A great performance by Miss Dillard, plus the sales-sentiment inspired by the recent Ace tragedy should put this one over big.
The Billboard Review (2/26/55): THE FIVE WINGS KING 4778....
Johnny's Still Singing (74) Another of the many attributes to the late Johnny Ace, this has appealing sentiment via the boys' sincere reading.
Johnny Has Gone (74) More of the same.
(NOTE: A ratings range of 70-79 was considered "good.")
The Billboard Review (3/26/55): JOHNNY OTIS ORK PEACOCK 1649....
In Memory (75) This r.&b. ballad, slow-paced and with a touch of sacred sentiment in it, will likely cause a stir among fans of the late Johnny Ace. (NOTE: There is no mention of Marie Adams' name in this review!)
Listen using Windows Media Player:
"Johnny Has Gone" - Varetta Dillard - Savoy 1153 - 1955
"Johnny's Still Singing" - The Five Wings - King 4778 - 1955
"Johnny Has Gone" - The Five Wings - King 4778 - 1955
"In Memory (A Tribute To Johnny Ace)" - Marie Adams - Peacock 1649 - 1955
"Salute To Johnny Ace" - The Rovers - Music City 780 - 1955
"Johnny Has Gone" - Patti Jerome - Josie 774 - 1955
ALL SIX played in sequence.
Above: "Anymore" clipping from The Billboard dated 7/2/55. Another Duke Records advertisement in July stated that "Anymore....sold more than 300,000 copies before release date."
The Billboard Review Spotlight (7/16/55): JOHNNY ACE DUKE 144....Anymore
This is the first Ace record issued since the top artist's recent death. It's a potent ballad similar in mood to his last, long-enduring smash, "Pledging My Love," and it could be the one his tremendous following has been waiting for. The flip is a rhythm opus from farther down in the barrel, "How Can You Be So Mean?"
The Cash Box Award O' The Week (7/16/55): JOHNNY ACE DUKE 144....Anymore/How Can You Be So Mean
Here's another money maker for the trade. Johnny Ace's long awaited follow up to "Pledging My Love" is another slow blues ballad titled "Anymore" that has all the qualities that made "Pledging" a hit. As with all of Ace's previous hits, the format is similar. It is a slow, pretty song with sentimental lyrics and the Ace individually stylized vocal. The band accompaniment is soft and permits the artist to handle the soft offering with just the proper degree of support. The story is one of the breaking off of a romance. The tune should take off immediately on exposure. Ace is a tried artist with a record of hits topped by his previous nationwide pop and r&b chartbuster, "Pledging." The flip is an up tempo rocker, "How Can You Be So Mean." Provides the jump dance side for the kids.
Listen to "Anymore" - Johnny Ace - Duke 144 - 1955 (Windows Media Player).
PLAY EVERY SONG on this webpage in sequence.
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Completely Updated December 2, 2017 Further Upgrade on 6/23/21.