John Alvin 'Johnnie' Ray was born on 10 January, 1927 in Dallas, Oregon. He was of North American Indian origin and heavily influenced by Rhythm and Blues and Gospel music. At the age of 12 he lost the sense of hearing in his right ear and had to wear a hearing aid for the rest of his life.
He soon began performing in the clubs and bars of Detroit, singing to his own piano accompaniment. Although mentioned in the 1949 verse of Fire, he didn't sign a record contract or become truly popular until 1951. He was a white man singing with a black man's voice, noted for his emotional performances in which he showed anguish, despair and often sobbed. This earned him the nicknames of 'Prince of Wails' and 'Nabob of Sob'. His most famous song from 1951, which he used as his signature tune, was Cry - a multi-million seller. He was notoriously hated by Frank Sinatra - possibly because Tony Bennett called him 'the father of rock'n'roll' - and his vocal abilities were widely acknowledged and admired.
His overtly sexual performances shocked parents and thrilled teenagers in the US. One of his later records, Such a Night, was banned by several radio stations. Despite this he still landed a minor role in the film There's No Business Like Show Business. By this time, however, rumours about his personal life were rife. More than once he was arrested for soliciting (preferring a bi-sexual lifestyle) and drug-taking. To escape the censorship of the USA he concentrated on the UK market netting 3 top ten hits between 1952 and 1957. He still risked performing in the US, however, and made regular appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. As music styles changed he reverted back to cabaret. Increasingly dependant on alcohol, he died of liver failure in 1990.