Johnny Ace – Pledging My Love (1955)
This tremendous ballad, composed by Don Robey and Ferdinand Washington, was recorded by Johnny Ace with Johnny Otis & His Orchestra for Duke Records. This was the biggest hit of his short career, remaining on the Billboard R&B chart for ten weeks: It was #1 on the R&B chart and #17 on the Pop chart! Unfortunately this all happened posthumously due to Ace’s untimely death at the young age of 25.
After serving in the Navy during World War 2, John Marshall Alexander, Jr. of Memphis, Tennessee, began his musical career as pianist for the Adolph Duncan Band. He was then a member of the Memphis Beale Streeters (that variously included the likes of both B.B. King and Bobby Bland).
He recorded two songs for Chess records in 1951, two songs for Memphis’ Sun records (that were never issued and are now “lost”) and finally he signed with Duke Records and had a string of best sellers accompanied by heavy promotional touring. After recording “Pledging My Love” for Duke in 1954, Ace went on a tour with his regular tourmate “Big Mama Thornton”.
After touring for a year, Ace had been performing at the City Auditorium in Houston, Texas on Christmas 1954. During a break between sets, Ace allegedly decided to play a game of Russian Roulette. He aimed a .45 caliber revolver at his girlfriend, Olivia Gibbs, and pulled the trigger. He then attempted to shoot her friend, Mary Carter. Both times, the hammer fell on an empty chamber. He then swiftly turned the gun on himself and ended his life.
Big Mama Thornton, a witness to the shooting, said in a written statement (included in the book The Late Great Johnny Ace) that Ace had been playing with the gun, but not playing Russian Roulette. According to Thornton, Ace pointed the gun at his girlfriend and another woman who were sitting nearby, but did not fire. He then pointed the gun toward himself. The gun went off, shooting him in the side of the head.
There have also been accusations that record company owner Don D. Robey, with whom Ace had been trying to renegotiate his contract, was responsible for his death.
Ace’s funeral was on January 2, 1955, at Memphis’ Clayborn Temple AME church. It was attended by an estimated 5000 people.
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