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leader of the first group to record "The Twist," which he wrote
John Henry Kendricks was born in Detroit, Michigan, on November 18, 1927. Orphaned at an early age, he was sent to Bessemer, Alabama, to live with relatives. [Ballard was his father's last name, Kendricks his mother's.] It was during his growing-up years that he acquired his love of music. Although he sang in a gospel choir and was surrounded by country music, he was most enamored by rhythm and blues. He returned to Detroit at age 15 to work on the assembly lines of the Ford Motor Company, while simultaneously trying to make his name in the music industry.
About 1953, Ballard joined the Royals, a Detroit-based group that also included Henry Booth, Charles Sutton, Sonny Woods and Alonzo Tucker. Although the Royals had already established themselves as a reasonably successful group, having scored a minor hit on the Federal label with "Every Beat of My Heart," the addition of Ballard's songwriting talents would soon catapault them onto the R&B charts. In late 1953 the group hit the charts with Ballard's "Get It," a song which received as much attention for its erotic lyrics as it did for its musical qualities. In early 1954, Federal Records changed the group's name to the Midnighters in order to avoid confusion with another, better known R&B group called the Five Royales, which Federal had just acquired from the Apollo label. The group became known as Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, thanks to an album by that name released in 1957. By the time the Midnighters disbanded, Ballard had helped them put 22 songs on the R&B charts.
Ironically, Ballard had to take the Midnighters through two record label changes in order to get his most famous song recorded. In the late-1950's he put new lyrics to a melody he had first used on a Midnighters flop entitled "Is Your Love for Real?" and produced "The Twist." When Federal refused to record the song he took it to Vee-Jay Records, which also turned it down; he then took it to King Records, which agreed to release it as the B-side of "Teardrops on Your Letter." American Bandstand host Dick Clark liked the tune enough to finance a re-recording by Ernest Evans (a.k.a Chubby Checker), who took the tune to the top of the pop charts not once but twice, in 1960 and 1962.
In 1961 Ballard decided to pursue a career as a solo act, and the Midnighters disbanded a short time later. Although he did make the R&B charts in 1968 and 1972 -- with "How You Gonna Get Respect (If You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet)?" and "From the Love Side," respectively -- he enjoyed very little success and went into retirement in the early 1970's.
After several years in retirement, Ballard formed a new version of the Midnighters and resumed his career. In addition to touring with his group, he also made special appearances with well-known rock and blues artists, including Stevie Ray Vaughan and James Brown. In 1990 he was among the first group of inductees into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, and in 1993 he released a "comeback" album entitled Naked in the Rain. He died in his Los Angeles home on March 2, 2003.
"Get It" -- 1953
Library >> Musics >> Biography: Singers
This page was last updated on 07/02/2017.