Recording and performing in the early 1950s, Jesse Belvin, Guitar Slim, and Johnny Ace produced at least thirteen top-25 hits between the three of them. All but forgotten in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll, these artists have influenced musicians as varied as Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and generations of soul singers. Their songs have been covered by artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Luther Vandross, and Paul Simon. In Earth Angels: The Short Lives and Controversial Deaths of Three R&B Pioneers Steve Bergsman affords readers a view of the lives and careers of three influential artists who left us much too soon. Bergsman notes in his introduction that this lack of notoriety is partly due to their untimely deaths. Jesse Belvin, a crooner whose “Goodnight My Love” became the closing theme to famed disc jockey Alan Freed’s radio shows, was killed in a head-on collision along with his wife just after performing at the first racially integrated concert in Little Rock, Arkansas; he was 27. Guitar Slim, whose million-selling song “The Things I Used to Do” has been re-recorded by both Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, died in New York City at the age of 32 due to pneumonia that was possibly induced by alcoholism. Johnny Ace’s “Pledging My Love” spent ten weeks at the top position on Billboard’s R&B chart. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 25. Bergsman’s meticulous research and entertaining narrative style seeks to restore the credit denied these artists by their untimely deaths.
About the Author
STEVE BERGSMAN is a freelance music writer and researcher with articles published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Black Enterprise, and Reuters. He is also the author of I Put a Spell on You: The Bizarre Life of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and coauthor of Chapel of Love: The Story of New Orleans Girl Group the Dixie Cups.