b. John Marshall Alexander Jnr, 9 June 1929, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, d. 23 December 1954, Houston, Texas
AN R&B BALLAD singer in the style of Nat ‘King’ Cole and Charles Brown, Ace is now best remembered for the manner of his death: he shot himself playing Russian roulette in his dressing room at Christmas, 1954.
In the late ’40s he performed with Memphis band the Beale Streeters, whose most famous members were B. B. King and Bobby Bland. His first single for Duke, ‘My Song’, was No. 1 in the R&B charts in 1952. He followed up with six Top Ten R&B hits, all soothing baritone performances accompanied by subdued small combo arrangements, culminating in the posthumous chart-topper ‘Pledging My Love’ (1955).
Paul Simon’s 1983 song ‘The Late Great Johnny Ace’ drew a parallel between Ace’s tragic end and that of John Lennon. ‘Pledging My Love’ was later covered by Elvis Presley (1977) and Aaron Neville (1985), and Ace’s original version was used in the film Christine (1986).
© Phil Hardy, Dave Laing, Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, 2001