Johnny Ace was a rhythm and blues singer who had several hit singles during the mid-1950s. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, as John Marshall Alexander, Jr., the son of a preacher. He joined Adolph Duncan’s Band as a pianist after serving in the United States Navy during the Korean War.
He later joined B. B. King’s band. Soon after, King left for Los Angeles, and Bobby Bland, the band’s singer, joined the army. As a result, Alexander took over the lead vocals and renamed the band the Beale Streeters. He also took over King’s WDIA radio show.
He began performing under the stage name Johnny Ace and signed with Duke Records. His first single, “My Song,” was an urban “heart” ballad that spent nine weeks at the top of the R&B chart. He toured with Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton and had eight more chart-topping singles, including “Cross My Heart,” “Please Forgive Me,” “The Clock,” “Yes, Baby,” “Saving My Love for You,” and “Never Let Me Go.”
Ace performed at the City Auditorium in Houston, Texas, on Christmas Day 1954, after touring for a year. He was shooting a.22-caliber revolver during a break between sets. Members of his band claimed he did it frequently, shooting at roadside signs from their car. Ace allegedly committed suicide while playing Russian roulette. However, different versions of what happened were told.
Beginning February 12, 1955, Ace’s “Pledging My Love” was a posthumous R&B number one hit for ten weeks. Because Ace was only 25 when he died, there was a huge demand for a record.