The world of music is undoubtedly full of legends that have made their own mark and carved their own niche. Among the names of these legends is Johnny Ace, who had a remarkably deep and soothing voice along with a brilliant career. Sadly, though, Ace’s success was short-lived, cut short in an abrupt and tragic manner.
For those who’re interested in the history of music and the earliest legends especially in the rock genre, Johnny Ace is not a name to ignore. Check out a brief history of this artist here:
The Life and Music of Johnny Ace
There are few music legends that are able to have such a significant impact on music in such a short time. Johnny Ace may have been only 25 years old when he passed away, but his works were nothing short of legendary. This especially includes his posthumous work, as we’ll discuss further on.
Birth and Passion
Born June 9, 1929, Johnny Ace served in the US Navy during World War II. This was before he decided to follow his heart in the field of music, going AWOL in order to do so. He joined the band of Adolph Duncan soon afterward and started to establish himself in the band as a pianist.
Later, he joined another band with B.B. King and continued his musical journey with zeal and fervor, blending himself beautifully into the band performances. However, his natural talent and passion weren’t going to let him stay in the background for very long.
In the coming years, Johnny Ace found himself taking over the entire band. He started to guide and managed the overall performances, as King had left the band for good. Ace confidently carried on the band-functions and musical choreography by himself and had looked after the radio shows which were previously organized by King.
Moving on from the band, Ace found great success in going solo as well. As the days passed, he had his first recording, a song called ‘My Song’. This was a heartfelt ballad and had enormous success on the Rhythm and Blues charts.
Almost instantly, Johnny Ace gained a remarkable position as a successful contributor in this genre and never looked back. At a very young age, he had admiring fans all over the country.
The following years saw him rising higher and higher on the musical charts. He performed in many musical venues and tours, organised by professionals like AV Hire, which were often accompanied by Willa Mae Thornton. The latter was usually called Big Mama Thornton, and was a well-known artist in her own right.
The next two years witnessed him churning out eight musical hits, one after the other, for a nine-month stretch. His tracks ‘The Clock’, ‘Yes Baby’, ‘Never Let Me Go’, and ‘Saving My Heart for You’ have been very popular with music lovers, especially R&B enthusiasts.
Johnny Ace had a string of singles that all became Top Ten R&B hits. One of those hits, “Pledging My Love,” became Ace’s only pop single, reaching to the Top 20 of the Hot 100 hits. Unfortunately, this was also a posthumous release, occurring shortly after his tragic death.
As a young boy, Johnny Ace was already a huge music lover. However, he was forbidden to play secular music or even listen to it by his father, who was a minister. Ace rebelled by dropping out of school and running away to join the Navy. There, as we know, he routinely went AWOL, sneaking away to play the piano at local bars. As a result, he was honorably discharged.
However, the restlessness of Johnny Ace was to continue, perhaps even being the cause of his death. In the early days of his short career, he was known to show up drunk. Towards the end of his life, he wasn’t really able to handle his growing success. He was plagued by stage fright, often asking the piano player to let his sit down and pay while performing. This was probably a way to shield himself from his fans. Such fears also led him to drinking and carrying a gun, which would later prove to be a fatal decision.
The death of Johnny Ace was a most unexpected and tragic one, said to be the first of its kind in rock music history. While the media portrayed his death at the time to be the result of a game of Russian roulette, this is far from the truth.
When going on tours, Ace was usually accompanied by Big Mama Thornton. Once, when he was in one of his restless moods, he dry-fired the gun at her in fun. Thornton retaliated by confiscating his gun, emptying the bullets (leaving one behind by mistake), and then returning it.
Later on, Ace was fooling around with the gun again, dry-firing at a protesting Thornton. To show her that the gun was empty, he held it to his own head and fired. Unfortunately, he shot himself with the last remaining bullet.
Niche in Music
As we mentioned in the beginning, every musician has his or her own niche where they excel and win their fans’ hearts. With Johnny Ace, the magic was mainly due to the touching lyrics of his songs, which attracted all men and women no matter what their race or ethnicity.
Ace’s songs they painted pictures and evoked emotions of nostalgia and sweet remembrances full of feelings of love, longing, and passion. The soothing effects of his mellow melodies made him a storehouse of talent.
Johnny Ace’s success culminated in 1954 when he was named the Most Programmed Artist. He was also one of the most bankable and promising musicians who had successfully and beautifully transformed Rhythm ‘n Blues into Rock ‘n Roll.
The songs of Johnny Ace are well-known to everyone who loves rock music, even if they don’t know his name. That’s mainly because these songs were extensively covered by extremely famous rock ‘n roll artist. These included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard.
While younger generations might not be completely familiar with his name, Johnny Ace was no doubt a true legend in his own right. Even though he was a man of color, he made the whole musical world sit up and pay attention. Reaching the music charts as a black man was nearly impossible back in those days, but he managed to accomplish that and even top them most of the time.
Had Johnny Ace lived, we would definitely have seen several more hits from this talented artist. With the high level of success he had, it’s no surprise that his death resulted in a period of national mourning. However, there’s no saying whether he would have been able to continue with such a successful career give his severe insecurities. Though, all we can do is pay homage to a beautiful voice and an astounding gift.