John Alvin Ray was born on 10 January, 1927 in Hopewell, Oregon, USA and died on 24 February, 1990 in Los Angeles, California, USA of liver failure at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Johnnie Ray was interred at Hopewell Cemetery near Hopewell, Oregon.
Johnnie Ray was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Johnnie Ray developed a unique rhythm based style, described as alternating between pre-rock R&B and a more conventional classic pop approach. Johnnie Ray was partially deaf because of an injury sustained at the age of 13. Johnnie Ray became deaf in his right ear at age 13 after an accident during a Boy Scout event. Johnnie Ray later performed his music wearing a hearing aid. Surgery performed in New York in 1958, left him almost completely deaf in both ears, although hearing aids helped his condition.
Johnnie Ray spent part of his childhood on a farm, eventually moving to Portland, Oregon. Johnnie Ray was of Native American origin; his great-grandmother was a full-blooded Indian and his great-grandfather was Oregon pioneer George Kirby Gay of Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England.
Johnnie Ray first attracted attention while performing at the Flame Showbar in Detroit, Michigan, an R&B nightclub. Inspired by rhythm singers like Kay Starr, LaVern Baker and Ivory Joe Hunter, Johnnie Ray developed a unique rhythm based style, described as alternating between pre-rock R&B and a more conventional classic pop approach.
Johnnie Ray’s first record, the self-penned R&B number for OKeh Records, Whiskey and Gin, was a minor hit in 1951. The following year he dominated the charts with the double-sided hit single of “Cry” and “The Little White Cloud That Cried”. Selling over 2, 000,000 copies of the 45 single, Johnnie Ray’s delivery struck a chord with teenagers and he quickly became a teen idol.
Johnnie Ray’s performing style included theatrics later associated with rock ‘n roll, including beating up his piano, writhing on the floor and crying. Johnnie Ray quickly earned the nicknames, “Mr. Emotion”, “The Nabob of Sob”, and “The Prince of Wails”, and several others.
More hits followed, including “Please Mr. Sun”, “Such a Night”, “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”, “A Sinner Am I”, and “Yes Tonight Josephine”. His last hit was “Just Walkin’ in the Rain”, in 1956. Johnnie Ray was popular in the United Kingdom, breaking the record at the London Palladium formerly set by Frankie Laine. In later years, he retained a loyal fan base overseas, particularly in Australia.
Johnnie Ray had a close relationship with journalist and television game show panelist Dorothy Kilgallen who gave a boost to his sagging career during his engagement at the Tropicana Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1965.
In early 1969, Johnnie Ray befriended Judy Garland, performing as her opening act during her last concerts in Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden. Johnnie Ray was also the best man during Garland’s wedding to nightclub manager Mickey Deans in London.
Johnnie Ray’s American career revived in the early 1970s, with appearances on The Andy Williams Show in 1970 and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 3 times during 1972 and 1973. Johnnie Ray’s personal manager Bill Franklin resigned in 1976 and cut off contact with the singer a few years later. Johnnie Ray’s American revival turned out to be shortlived. Johnnie Ray performed in small American venues such as El Camino College in 1987. Australian, English and Scottish promoters booked him for their large venues as late as 1989, his last year of performing.
Some writers suggested that the reason American entertainment bookers and songwriters ignored him in the 1980s was because they simply did not know who he was or what his sound was like. Johnnie Ray’s exposure during the new era of cable television was limited to a few seconds in Dexys Midnight Runners’ 1982 music video for Come On Eileen, using archival footage of Johnnie Ray from 1954. Johnnie Ray’s other video appearance was in Billy Idol’s 1986 “Don’t Need a Gun”, in which Johnnie Ray appeared on-camera.
Johnnie Ray had issues regarding his sexuality surface several times in his career, including 2 arrests for solicitation. Johnnie Ray quietly pleaded guilty and paid a fine after the first arrest, in the restroom of the Stone Theatre burlesque house in Detroit, which was just prior to the release of his first record in 1951. Johnnie Ray went to trial following the second arrest in 1959, also in Detroit, for soliciting an undercover officer in one of the city’s gay bars. Johnnie Ray was found not guilty.
Despite these issues, Johnnie Ray married Marilyn Morrison a short time after he gave his first New York concert, which was at the Copacabana in 1952. The wedding ceremony, attended by New York mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri, made the cover of the New York Daily News. Morrison, the daughter of a Los Angeles nightclub owner, was aware of the singer’s sexuality from the start, telling a friend she would “straighten it out.” The couple separated in 1953 and divorced in 1954.
In the years hence, writers have noted that the marriage occurred under false pretenses, and that Johnnie Ray had a long-term relationship with his manager, Bill Franklin. Johnnie Ray also had a relationship with columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, whom he met following an appearance on What’s My Line? in 1956. Dorothy Kilgallen was a strong support for Johnnie Ray during the 1959 solicitation trial.
Johnnie Ray drank regularly and his alcoholism caught up with him in 1960, when he was hospitalised for tuberculosis. Johnnie Ray recovered but continued drinking, and was diagnosed with cirrhosis at age 50.
For his contribution to the recording industry, Johnnie Ray has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6201 Hollywood Boulevard.
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