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Ivory Joe Hunter: Inside The Life Of An American Rhythm-and-Blues Singer

Ivory Joe Hunter


Ivory Joe Hunter was born on October 10, 1914, in Kirbyville, Texas, to blues guitarist Dave Hunter and pianist/ gospel singer Anna Smith Hunter. Ivory began piano lessons with his mother when he was five years old. Hunter’s godmother, Savanah White Riley, washed clothes for people after his mother died when he was 13 to earn money for piano lessons for Hunter. Hunter was a member of the orchestra and choir at Lincoln High School in Port Arthur, Texas. In addition, he formed a small band and played piano at school dances. He graduated in 1930 at 16.

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Hunter recorded “Stack O Lee” on a cylinder in Wiergate, Texas in 1933 for folklorists John Lomax and Alan Lomax, father and son, for the Library of Congress’ Archive of American Folk Song. In addition, he hosted a radio show and worked as a program manager for KFDM in Beaumont, Texas.

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Hunter was billed as “The Baron of the Boogie” and “The Happiest Man Alive” in 1942. R&B, blues, boogie-woogie, and even Country & Western were all part of his repertoire. In 1942, he moved to Los Angeles, California, and the following year, he founded Ivory Records. In 1948, he founded Pacific Records in Oakland and released “Pretty Mama Blues,” which topped the R&B chart for three weeks.

Hunter wrote and arranged 21 songs in the 1950s, 18 of which charted on Billboard’s R&B charts 21 times and 4 times on the Hot 100. It included the blues ballad “Since I Met You Baby,” which peaked at no. 1 R&B, no. 12 Billboard Hot 100, and no. 16 on Billboard’s Roc and Roll chart in 1956; and “I Quit My Pretty Mama,” which peaked at no. 4 R&B in 1950. His 1956 single “A Tear Fell” peaked at number 15 on the R&B charts.

In 1957 “Empty Arms” peaked at no. 2 R&B and no. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Yes, I Want You” in 1958, reached no. 13 R&B and no. 94 on the Billboard Hot 100. The decade ended with his release in 1959 of “City Lights” that reached no. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In 1974, Hunter received a BMI Songwriter Award.

Ivory Joe Hunter, who wrote over 7,000 songs, died of lung cancer on November 8, 1974, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 60. In addition, the Jasper County Historical Commission, the Jefferson County Historical Commission, and the Port Arthur Historical Society unveiled a Texas state historical marker at Ivory Joe Hunter’s gravesite in 2009.



Written by How Africa News

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