Johnny Ace

Johnny Ace

Infobox musical artist
Name = Johnny Ace

Img_capt =
Img_size = 200
Landscape =
Background = Solo Singer
Birth_name = John Marshall Alexander, Jr.
Alias = Johnny Ace
Born = birth date|1929|6|9
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Died = death date and age|1954|12|5|1929|6|9
Houston, Texas U.S.
Origin =
Genre = R&B
Years_active = 1949- 1954
Label = Duke Records
Associated_acts =
Current_members =
Past_members =
Notable_instruments =

Johnny Ace (June 9 1929 – December 25 1954), born John Marshall Alexander, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, was one of the stars of U.S. rhythm and blues singing.


Alexander's father was a preacher in Tennessee. After serving in the navy during the Korean War, Alexander joined Adolph Duncan's Band as a pianist. He then joined the B. B. King band. Soon King departed for Los Angeles and Bobby Bland joined the army. Alexander took over vocal duties and renamed the band The Beale Streeters,ref|Beale also taking over King's WDIA radio show.

Becoming "Johnny Ace", he signed to Duke Records (originally a Memphis label associated with WDIA) in 1952. "My Song", his first recording, topped the R&B charts for nine weeks in September. ("My Song" was covered in 1968 by Aretha Franklin.)

Ace began heavy touring, often with Willa Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. In the next two years, he had eight hits in a row, including "Cross My Heart," "Please Forgive Me," "The Clock," "Yes, Baby." and "Never Let Me Go." In December, 1954 he was named the Most Programmed Artist Of 1954 after a national DJ poll organized by U.S. trade weekly Cash Box.

Ace's recordings sold very well for those times. Early in 1955, Duke Records announced that the three 1954 Johnny Ace recordings, along with Thornton's "Hound Dog", had sold more than 1,750,000 records.


After touring for a year, Ace had been performing at the City Auditorium in Houston, Texas on Christmas 1954. During a break between sets, Ace allegedly decided to play a game of Russian Roulette. He aimed a .45 caliber revolver at his girlfriend, Olivia Gibbs, and pulled the trigger. He then attempted to shoot her friend, Mary Carter. Both times, the hammer fell on an empty chamber. He then swiftly turned the gun on himself and ended his life.

Big Mama Thornton, a witness to the shooting, said in a written statement (included in the book "The Late Great Johnny Ace") that Ace had been playing with the gun, but not playing Russian Roulette. According to Thornton, Ace pointed the gun at his girlfriend and another woman who were sitting nearby, but did not fire. He then pointed the gun toward himself. The gun went off, shooting him in the side of the head.

There have also been accusations that record company owner Don D. Robey, with whom Ace had been trying to renegotiate his contract, was responsible for his death.

Ace's funeral was on January 2, 1955, at Memphis' Clayborn Temple AME church. It was attended by an estimated 5000 people.


Johnny Ace and "Pledging My Love" are mentioned in the early Sam Shepard one-act play Cowboy Mouth, co-written with Patti Smith. Johnny Ray is referenced in the final image of the play: the "Rock-n-Roll Saviour" appears, takes a revolver, points it at his head and pulls the trigger. The gun clicks on an empty chamber and the play ends.

"Pledging My Love" was used multiple times in the 1983 film "Christine" directed by John Carpenter and written by Stephen King about a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury obsessed with a 17 year-old boy.

An early scene in Charles Burnett's 1977 film, "Killer of Sheep", includes the line "Going out like Johnny Ace."

Paul Simon wrote a song called "The Late Great Johnny Ace" (on his "Hearts and Bones" album) that references Johnny Ace's death as well as John Lennon's and John Kennedy's. He premiered the song to an audience during his famous reunion concert with Art Garfunkel in Central Park in 1981. A fan rushed the stage during the song and was quickly arrested. Simon then completed the song. The incident was shown on the concert video on HBO, but the song was excluded from the live album from that concert.

New Orleans-based rock band Dash Rip Rock has written, recorded and released a song named "Johnny Ace" which tells the story of Johnny Ace's life and death. The song first appeared on their second Mammoth Records release "Ace of Clubs" (1989). Subsequent recordings appeared on "Boiled Alive!" (Mammoth Records, 1991) and "Dash Rip Rock's Gold Record" (Naked Language, 1996).

Will Oldham (as Palace Music) released a 45 "Gezundeit/Let the Wires Ring" in 1995: the last verse of "Let the wires ring" mentions Johnny Ace's death.

"Next wave wash your pretty face/And keep in mind that Johnny Ace/Was drunk, was fucked, was not on stage/When he made that silly move he made/And only after once dead we/Adore him more, adore that money/After when his corpse was cool/That ugly memorable fool/Who shot the Christmas spirit down/And lit a fame, that half-made clown."

(full lyrics:

His biggest song, the haunting Pledging My Love, became a hit posthumously in 1955. His single sides were compiled and released as "The Johnny Ace Memorial Album".

David Allan Coe released his tribute version of "Pledging My Love" first on the 1981 album 'Tennessee Whiskey' and then later on his 1990 album 'Headed For The Country'. He is one of the names mentioned in the television adaptation of Stephen King's short story "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band" from "Nightmares & Dreamscapes". Ace is one of the late musical legends set to appear on stage.

"The Night Johnny Ace Died," a short fiction by James Lee Burke, appears in the March 2007 issue of Esquire magazine.

Squirrel Nut Zippers has a song on their Christmas album, "Christmas Caravan", called "A Johnny Ace Christmas" in reference to the night he died.


* 1952 Remember I Love You (SUN, unissued)
* 1952 I Cried Last Night (SUN, unissued)
* 1952 My Song / Follow the Rule (Duke 102) - with Beale Streeters
* 1953 Cross my Heart / Angel (Duke 107) - with Beale Streeters
* 1953 The Clock / Aces Wild (Duke 112) - Ace playing piano
* 1954 Midnight Hours Journey / Trouble And Me (Earl Forrest) (rerelease of 1951 Flair 1015)
* 1954 Saving my Love for You / Yes, Yes, Baby (Duke 118)
* 1954 Please Forgive Me / You've Been Gone So Long (Duke 128)
* 1954 Never Let Me Go / Burley Cutie (Duke 132)
* 1954 Pledging My Love / No Money (Duke 136) (posthumous release, 12 Feb 1955) - #1 on R&B charts for 10 weeks, US pop charts #17.
* 1955 Anymore / How Can You Be So Mean (Duke 144) - 10" 78rpm
* 1956 So Lonely/ I'm Crazy Baby (Duke 148)
* 1956 Don't You Know / I Still Love You So (Duke 154)
* 1955 Johnny Ace Memorial Album (Duke LP-70) - 10" EP
* 1974 Johnny Ace Memorial Album (ABC/Duke DLPX71)


* Rolling Stone, "Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll". New York: 1995. ISBN 0-684-81044-1
* Dafydd Rees and Luke Crampton. "Rock Movers and Shakers". Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1991. ISBN 0-87436-661-5
* ROCK ON: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock n' Roll: The Solid Gold Years: 1974, 1982: [Thomas Y. Crowell Company, Harper & Row: New York, New York; ISBN 0-06-181642-6: p001.

External links

* [ Johnny Ace Tribute]
* [ Johnny Ace's Photo & Gravesite]
* [ HIPO's Johnny Ace bio]
* [ Johnny Ace Remembered]

NAME=Alexander, John Marshall
DATE OF BIRTH=June 9 1929
PLACE OF BIRTH=Memphis, Tennessee
DATE OF DEATH=December 25 1954
PLACE OF DEATH=Houston, Texas

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