Despite being skinny, pigeon-toed, half-deaf and effeminate, this highly emotional performer was the most popular singer of the pre-Elvis era.
Indeed, when Elvis first started out he was often introduced on stage as “the new Johnnie Ray”.
Though mostly remembered for such lip-quivering hits as The Little White Cloud That Cried, Ray definitely started out on an R&B kick.
In an era ruled by the crooner, Johnnie Ray (born in Oregon in 1927) was so sensational and so unconventional that Columbia Records placed his first record release on their R&B-oriented Okeh label, giving the impression that the singer was black.
In doing so, they created the first artist of importance to cross the white/black music dividing line.
Though he would later slip from vaudeville (Somebody Stole My Gal) and show tunes (Hey There) into jukebox hits (Just Walkin’ In The Rain), he was always at his most potent preaching his own take on the blues (witness Such A Night or Flip Flop and Fly).
His 1954 recording of Such A Night was the first chart hit to be banned not only by the BBC but also by many American radio stations. It still ended up topping the British charts.