Earth Angels: The Short Lives and Controversial Deaths of Three RandB Pioneers

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Texas A&M University Press, 2023 - Biography & Autobiography - 272 pages
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"Recording and performing in the early 1950s, Jesse Belvin, Johnny Ace, and Guitar Slim produced at least thirteen top-25 hits among them. In the years since, their songs have been covered by artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Luther Vandross, and Paul Simon, and they have influenced musicians as varied as Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Despite all that, their names remain mostly forgotten in the annals of rock 'n roll. Perhaps, as author Steve Bergsman notes in his introduction to Earth Angels: The Short Lives and Controversial Deaths of Three R&B Pioneers, this lack of notoriety is partly due to an unfortunate circumstance joining the three: their untimely deaths. 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 and was subsequently performed by Elvis Presley and Paul Simon. Ace died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 25. 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, in 1960; he was 27. 'If they had made it into the rock era,' Bergsman writes, 'or even the British Invasion years of the early '60s . . . they might have seen their stars shine once again, be recognized as pioneers of R&B, and maybe eventually be ensconced in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Instead, they had the bad luck to die before any of that could come to pass . . .'. Bergsman's meticulous research and entertaining narrative style will afford readers an appreciation-and, for many, an initial view-of the lives and careers of three talented and influential artists who left us much too soon"--

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About the author (2023)

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.

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