Cover for SALEM: The Late Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R&B to Rock 'n' Roll

The Late Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R&B to Rock 'n' Roll

The critically acclaimed biography of the 50s singer and heartthrob

Johnny Ace's crooning style and stirring ballads made him the first postwar African American artist to cross over to a white audience. After a string of R&B hits, Ace released the million-selling "Pledging My Love," a song headed to the top of the charts when the singer accidentally shot himself in his dressing room between sets at a show.

James M. Salem captures the enigmatic, captivating, and influential R&B legend. Venturing from raucous Beale Street to Houston's vibrant Fourth Ward, Salem places Johnny Ace within a multifaceted world of postwar rhythm and blues that included B. B. King, Johnny Otis, Big Mama Thornton, and Gatemouth Brown. Salem also examines how entrepreneur Don D. Robey and his wife Evelyn Johnson promoted Ace to the top of the charts. Yet fame, as always, had a price. Ace's tours on the Chitlin' Circuit meant endless one-night stands and a grueling schedule that kept him on the road 340 days per year.

Comprehensive and filled with anecdotes, The Late Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R&B to Rock 'n' Roll tells the story of the star who fused black and white styles and changed American popular music forever.

"A scholarly work and a piece of genuine research, yet it reads easily and has a feel for both period and musical form. . . . A fine line between academic rigour and narrative drive is expertly negotiated. It also leads you scurrying off to those haunting, delicate songs that meant so much to so many listeners."--Pop Matters Book Review

"Salem's work represents how academic history can bring greater insight and greater accuracy to the recording of popular music history. . . . [This volume] is a terrific read and keeps you turning the pages, even when you know how it ends. This is the most exciting book on popular music that this reviewer has read in the past few years."--Robert Pruter, Goldmine

"This meticulously researched volume tells the tragic tale of the star-crossed Memphis crooner whose most famous record "Pledging My Love" rode up the charts in 1955, the year after the talented singer died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The book also sheds serious light on the powerful changes undergone by pop music in the '50s, changes whose effects are still being felt. Just as valuable are the illuminating portraits Salem paints of the thriving musical, social, business, and cultural scenes that existed in Memphis and Houston in the late '40s and '50s."--Kevin Toelle, Illinois Entertainer

"Salem's book is the first all-embracing look at Ace, known for his posthumous hit, 'Pledging My Love'. . . . Read Salem's account--an essential addition to books on Memphis music--and Ace seems all too tragically human."--Bill Ellis, Commercial Appeal

"[Salem] has brought his brilliant research skills to almost every aspect of the history, society, music and popular culture that created the Johnny Ace phenomenon, and every ramification of his death from Russian roulette on Christmas Day, 1954. . . . This is a magnificently historical work, and, of huge interest to music lovers. . . . A genuine high point in the bibliography of our music."--Pete Bowen, Now Dig This

James M. Salem was a professor emeritus in and longtime chair of the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama.

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