Born Jesse A. Stone, the grandson of Tennessee slaves in Atchinson, KS, on November 16, 1901, he began performing when he was five years old in his family's touring minstrel show. During the 1920s, Stone was the leader of a jazz band that included saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Around 1936, jazz legend Duke Ellington assisted Stone in getting a booking at New York City's Cotton Club. Later, Stone became a staff arranger/composer/comedy writer at the city's Apollo Theater. Stone, whose musical career included folk concerts and stints in dance, R&B, and rock & roll bands, joined Atlantic Records as a staff producer/songwriter/arranger in the late '40s. During that decade, Stone's original song Idaho was covered by Guy Lombardo and sold three million copies.
Trail-blazing rock & roll band Bill Haley and His Comets recorded Stone's Shake Rattle and Roll on Decca Records. The single sold a million copies, peaking at number seven pop on Billboard's charts during summer 1954 and assisting in the acceptance of "Negro music" by white audiences. It was included on the album Rock Around the Clock, which hit number 12 pop in early 1956 and boasted the million-selling title track that held the number one pop spot for eight weeks and hit number three R&B in spring 1955 (in the 1954 Glenn Ford movie # Blackboard Jungle and later used as an early opening track for ABC-TV's '70s sitcom #Happy Days) and Burn the Candle. The success of Elvis Presley in 1955 was the beginning of the solidification R&B birthed rock & roll into mainstream America.
Epic Records star Roy Hamilton covered Stone's Don't Let Go, taking it to number two R&B in early 1958. Don't Let Go was also covered by Issac Hayes, whose dazzling disco string- and horn-laced version on Polydor Records hit number 11 R&B in fall 1979. Hayes' Don't Let Go LP went gold in early 1980. Warner Records act Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen's version charted at number 56 pop in early 1975.
At age 97, Jesse Stone died April 1, 1999, in Altamonte Springs, FL. Stone-related releases are Jesse Stone Alias Charles Calhoun (Bear Family), Rhino's Very Best of Big Joe Turner, and Roy Hamilton's Golden Classics. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi
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