The Happiest Man Alive: Ivory Joe Hunter

Here is a portrait of Ivory Joe Hunter and the music he loved to make. He was hot damn good at what he did! And...He didn't care who you were or where you came from, he was gonna sing for you stuff that would tear your heart out, have you bubbling over with joy or rockin’ down the house.
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By Bill Bronk

 Ivory Joe Hunter (publicity photo)

Ivory Joe Hunter (publicity photo)

From Memphis, Tennessee, where he was bedridden at the Methodist Hospital, they airlifted him to Nashville. He was dying from terminal lung cancer which had been diagnosed in December 1973. From the ambulance they carried him on a stretcher into the new Grand Ole Opry House. He was grimacing in pain and too weak to walk. So In a wheelchair, they moved him over to the piano on stage...where he gave the last performance of his life. With his honest-to-goodness sincerity and all the grit, pluck and spunk he could muster, he sang “He’ll Never Love You the Way I Do” and followed that with “Empty Arms.” His final song, sung to a tear-filled audience which over the years often honored him with a standing ovation, was “God Just Lent Them to You.” It was October 1, five weeks before he succumbed on Friday, the 8 of November, 1974. He was 63 years old, another music icon gone way too early.

The man was Ivory Joe Hunter. With his big wide smile, the 6’3” Hunter, known as “The Baron of Boogie,” “Rambling Fingers,” and “The Happiest Man Alive” was being honored at a benefit and tribute concert, the purpose of which was to help Ivory Joe pay his medical expenses. After a lifetime as a singer and songwriter, his financial situation was dire and he didn’t have enough funds to pay for his many months of intensive care. He was broke. A few of the many who paid tribute that night were “Soul Man” Isaac Hayes and country stalwarts Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Sonny James and Melba Montgomery.

Here is a portrait of a man and the music he loved to make. He was hot damn good at what he did! And...He didn't care who you were or where you came from, he was gonna sing for you stuff that would tear your heart out, have you bubbling over with joy or rockin’ down the house. Mostly, he did it with words and music he created. But first, you might be wondering about the name “Ivory Joe.” Yes, some performers adopt a stage name...perhaps pulled out of the air by a press agent because it would look good on a record label or concert poster. But that’s not so for Ivory Joe Hunter. That’s his real name....given to him by his father, Dave Hunter and mother, Anna Smith Hunter when he was born on October 10, 1911 in Kirbyville, a small, sawmill town 70 miles north of Port Arthur in Jasper County, eastern Texas.

In an article about Ivory Joe titled “I’m A Lucky Man....”, written by Micki Robinson for the May 1975 issue of “Country Song Roundup,” Ivory Joe revealed that his parents “thought I looked just like the baby on the outside of the Castoria Ivory bottle, so they called me Ivory. Just think, I was named after a bottle of baby laxative.” He goes on to say his middle name came from his mother’s favorite brother Joe.

Fortunate to be born into a musical family (his father was a blues guitarist and mother was a gospel singer in the local church choir), Ivory Joe, one of 10 boys and four girls, learned to “tickle the ivories” early on. Like many aspiring musicians, Ivory Joe was active in his grade and high school orchestras....along with performing in local gospel groups and singing in his church choir. He and one of his sisters, according to the aforementioned article, taught themselves to play the family piano and often would play for the family and the neighbors when they held their frequent “front porch sings.” By his teen years, Ivory Joe knew he wanted to make music his life’s calling.

According to an August 10, 1979 letter to a fan (on Berger Artist Management letterhead) written by Bettye Berger, Ivory Joe’s manager for seven years, his “greatest inspiration to him for playing the piano was his Godmother, Mrs. A.J. Riley” (Savanah White Riley). Ivory Joe’s godmother, Berger said, “was always ready to talk about her baby, Ivory Joe. She saw his abilities as a young child and took in white peoples washings to get enough money to give him a few lessons.” “Of course”, she said, “the rest of his talents flowed naturally.” And after his parents died when he was 13, she took him in to live with her for a few years. Later, while attending Lincoln High School in Port Arthur, he was living with his older sister Georgia and brother-in-law James Evans. At this point, music still wasn’t everything in his life...as he learned early on about hard, physical labor working as a gardener on a truck farm.

After graduating from high school in 1930, and while still a teenager, Ivory Joe formed a small band and began playing piano at school dances, as well as at honky-tonks, juke joints and road houses in his community. He wasn’t particular; he’d play just about anywhere he could find a piano, even carnivals and tent shows. Before he moved to Oakland, California in 1942 he had spread out regionally to Beaumont, where he hosted a radio show on K.F.D.M and became known as “Rambling Fingers.” For several years, he was popular in the Houston area where his musical home was the Uptown Tavern.

As a precursor to an eventual star turn as a popular recording artist, around 1933 Ivory Joe was given the opportunity to record, on cylinder, for John and Alan Lomax, father and son folklorists for the Library of Congress’s Archive of American Folk Song. The song was ”Stack O Lee” and the place was Wiergate, Texas, like Kirbyville, another small sawmill community – about 40 miles northeast of Kirbyville. For that session, Ivory Joe recorded under the name Ivory Joe White (with White being his godmother’s maiden name).

A brief pause here to say that there are several good sources of information for Ivory Joe on the Internet... some of which provide in depth bios and excellent discographies, nitty gritty stuff which will not be the focus of this article: https://www.allmusic.com/artist/ivory-joe-hunter-mn0000773370/biography, https://www.discogs.com/artist/322335-Ivory-Joe-Hunter?page=1, http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/ijhunter.htmhttp://home.earthlink.net/~jaymar41/ivory1.html

This article, however, does provide information not found elsewhere and broadens some key information on his formative years (as a person and as an entertainer). But rather than focusing on what has already been said and documented, this piece (along with waxing poetic over the beauty and passion of his songs) is more a review of Ivory Joe’s importance in music history and him talking about himself, his music style, his songwriting and especially, the high praise that others bestowed upon him. For all his success Ivory Joe felt that “his greatest time of all,” according to Bettye Berger, “was when the barriers were broken and a black man could sing and not be labeled.”

Like many before him, Ivory Joe marveled at the mastery of others in his field. Here he speaks of two of his influences: “I learned a lot from two great men in the music profession. I couldn’t help being influenced by those wonderful Duke Ellington arrangements and watching the showmanship of Fats Waller. He taught me things about putting over a song that I’ll never forget.” This quote from Ivory Joe was from liner notes written by Ray Topping for “This is Ivory Joe Hunter” (Ace Records Ltd: CH 97, 1984). Topping went on to say that Ivory Joe first saw both of his influences “in the movies.”

While researching vintage newspapers for this piece was fun and enlightening, by happenstance I found that Ivory Joe had been “discovered” twice...years apart, in different parts of the country, by two different people. I’m sure Ivory Joe, with his great sense of humor, would have shrugged it off and gotten a good laugh out of it.

First up is an advertisement in the Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), on 9 Nov 1946 inviting the public to the Zanzibar Club to “Attend Our Big Jam Session with Ivory Joe Hunter and His Recording Combo.” The ad continues: “One of the Nation’s Top Colored Artists has brought to the West the plaintive ballads and melancholy rhythm of the Deep South where he was discovered in 1941 by yours truly, Nitz Jackson” (William “Nitz” Jackson established the Zanzibar in 1942).

But...In a news piece that might be considered claim-jumping of the California “discovery,” the Indianapolis Recorder (Indianapolis, Indiana), on 16 September 1950 reported that “Ivory Joe Hunter and his famous orchestra will play a dance date at the popular Sunset Ballroom in Indianapolis on Sunday Nite, 17 September.” The (unknown) writer of the article claimed that “Ivory Joe was discovered in a Texas honky-tonk by Louis Jordan (Jordan was known as “The King of the Jukebox”). According to Jordan,’Ivory Joe Hunter is the man who will someday fill the spot left vacant by the late Fats Waller’.”

Is it the truth...or pure concoction? We’ll never know, but one thing’s for certain: after nearly 15 years of grinding away, paying his dues and honing his craft in Texas, Ivory Joe is in Oakland, California, where in 1945 he quickly makes a name for himself by recording “Blues at Sunrise” on his own Ivory label (Ivory 78-931). He wrote that song...which peaked at #3 on the R&B charts. In 1947, on his Pacific label, he recorded “Pretty Mama Blues, which he also composed (Pacific 78-637)” and which peaked at #1 on the Billboard R&B charts. His “Blues at Midnight”, another of his songs, on 4 Star records (78-1283) in 1949 reached #10 on the R&B charts.

There were regional hits which did not make the charts, such as “Jumpin’ at the Dewdrop,” “Ivory Joe’s Boogie” and “San Francisco Blues.” During this period, he recorded many sides for the 4 Star and King labels...before moving on to MGM Records....where in 1950 his self-penned “I Almost Lost My Mind” (MGM 78-10578) peaked at #1 on the Billboard R&B charts (Pat Boone would later take this song to #1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1956). Other MGM hits in 1950 include “I Need You So (MGM 78-10663), written by Ivory Joe, which charted at #1 and “It’s A Sin (MGM 78-K10818) which reached #10.

Along with his growing popularity and the popularity of his records, Ivory Joe became known nationally and toured the country in his own bus as part of the rhythm and blues circuit. The following two articles reveal how popular he was: The “Beale Street Chatter” (Memphis, Tenn (ANP) column in The Plain Dealer (Kansas City, Kansas), 24 March 1950 reported that “Here we are with news and views from the home of the blues, ol’ Beale Street in Memphis, the city where Ivory Joe Hunter, MGM’s top blues man, broke all box office records at the Palace theater. He had them lined up for three blocks to see and hear him.”

About a year later, also in The Plain Dealer, this story appeared: 9 Feb 1951: “ Ivory Joe Hunter, torrid-thumping piano player and blues shouter de luxe, and his orchestra, will head the ‘Band-Wagon Cavalcade’, a 10-band dance-show to be presented at the Municipal auditorium Sunday night. The crowd-pleasing Hunter, a big bespectacled guy who whams a piano out loud and who tells the world about the blues, is one of the finest young entertainers in the current musical field.”

But things change. As we’ll see, Ivory Joe wasn’t happy just singing the blues; he wanted to branch out and perform in other venues. To that end, in 1961, according to writer Dana White, “Ivory Joe told British blues historian, Paul Oliver (author of “The Story of the Blues”) that early in his career he had stopped playing in black clubs exclusively because” ‘I really worked at my piano until I could play the white places where they paid better. I learned to play pop ballads and so on; up to then I’d only been playing the blues’ (Liner notes from Home Cooking LP).

“Here’s Ivory Joe being quoted in an article published in the Indianapolis Recorder—19 July 1952. “I am not a blues singer,” insists Ivory Joe talking about his show coming to the Sunset Terrace Ballroom, Sunday, July 20. The article further states that a few years ago he was billed as a blues artist, but now his billing always reads...”The Versatile Ivory Joe Hunter.” Ivory Joe goes on to explain that he “loves the blues,” but emphasizes that his bag of songs contains more ballads than anything else. “Why I can even sing hillbilly stuff”, he says, noting the country song “I’m Sorry For You, My Friend,” written and recorded by Hank Williams in 1951.

Ivory Joe left MGM for Atlantic Records in 1954. Before he hit the big time on the national scene in 1956 with one of his signature tunes, “Since I Met You Baby,” his records appeared only on the Billboard R&B charts. That was the time when most white radio stations, with the exception of DJs like Alan Freed, played mostly homogenized versions of R&B songs. Ivory Joe appeared on the Billboard R&B charts 21 times, and four times on the Hot 100. He composed 18 of the 21 songs that appeared on the charts. Of those 21 songs, 17 were in the top 10, including 4 that reached #1. His greatest success on the Billboard Hot 100 came with his two Atlantic releases, the now classic “Since I Met You Baby” in 1956 (Atlantic 45-1111) which peaked at #12 and “Empty Arms” (Atlantic 45-1128) in 1957 which peaked at #43. After leaving Atlantic in 1958, Ivory Joe went on to record for many other labels, including Dot, Epic, Capitol and Paramount.

 Ivory Joe Hunter's “Since I Met You Baby” (Atlantic 45-1111) peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1956.

Ivory Joe Hunter's “Since I Met You Baby” (Atlantic 45-1111) peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1956.

So what was it about Ivory Joe Hunter that brought the world to his doorstep? Sure, it was his musicianship and showmanship...but it was the voice and the heartfelt passion that it conveyed. It was a voice people wanted to hear...over and over again. Many of his songs were bluesy and soulful; you could feel and hear the ache in his voice, that little hitch that is not far from a cry or sob. When his tenor soared it was pure magic. And when he turned it on... he had just the right amount of sand papery grit to further enhance his already unique voice. In reviewing Ivory Joe’s new 45 release, “My Search Was Ended” (Dot 45-15986). “Gerald Kloss of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, writing in his “Top Pop” column (11 Oct 1959) informs us that Ivory Joe Hunter “rolls his grainy tenor over a ballad.”

Here’s what some music professionals had to say about Ivory Joe:

Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records: “The uniqueness of Ivory Joe Hunter was not only his great verbal singing expressions...he was an interpreter and interpolator—an unusual communicator. If he had never written but one song---“Since I Met You Baby---a master piece of sheer enjoyment with that great common denominator factor contained in the lyric and melody line---his ability as an unusual writer should go down as one of the true greats. Ivory Joe never wasted words. His melodically beautiful voice and what he did with it was nothing short of phenomenal. His original compositions of superb songs are legion”. (Liner notes: from “Ivory Hoe Hunter: Since I Met You Baby”: (Mercury/Polygram: 422 830-897-1 Q-1, 1987).

John Gabree (High Fidelity Magazine) writing about Ivory Joe: “Essentially, he is a blues –based balladeer. One of the most talented performers...and one of the most underrated, in pop music. His singing is masterful, full and rich and compelling, capable equally of expressing joy and sadness, a voice that is old and wise and gentle and experienced”.( Liner Notes for the 1971 Epic LP—E30348, “The Return of Ivory Joe Hunter..

Don Clemens, music writer for The Columbia Record (Columbia, South Carolina), 30 Jan 1971. Clemens, in his Pop Scene column, anticipating the upcoming release of Ivory Joe’s new album on Epic (E30348), “The Return of Ivory Joe Hunter” had this to say: “Legendary bluesman Ivory Joe Hunter, one of the real seedmen of rock ‘n’ roll, is alive and well on the comeback trail.”

Dana White: “When Ivory Joe Hunter came down with the blues, he worked them out differently from fellow Texans such as Lightning Hopkins or T-Bone Walker. Joe’s recipe added a pinch of boogie, a heaping spoonful of soul, a taste of pop or country. The resultant mixture, always topped with his delicious vocals, brought him tremendous success”. (Liner notes from “I’m Coming Down with the Blues” -- Home Cooking Records, 1989 LP HCS-112).

Ace Cannon, Saxophonist: “The way he sang his songs and put his phrasing and emotions into it made it easier for me to express in playing my horn the same way. He definitely influenced my music very much. I recorded a lot of his songs. I will always remember his music and keep it alive as long as I can”.(Liner notes: from “Ivory Hoe Hunter: Since I Met You Baby”: (Mercury/Polygram: 422 830-897-1 Q-1, 1987).

Bill Dahl: “His vast and varied catalog reflects the warmth and sincerity of the man himself”. (Liner notes: “An Introduction to Ivory Joe Hunter”: (Fuel Records: 302 061 606 2, 2006).

While ballads were always his strength, Ivory Joe could also rock out with the best of them. Here’s a few examples of some pretty hot stuff: “All States Boogie”: 1947, King 78-4314; ‘Rockin’ Chair Boogie”: 1952, MGM 45-K11378; “Shooty Booty”: 1958, Atlantic 45-1183 and “You Flip Me Baby”: 1958, Atlantic 45-1191.

The above rockers were composed by Ivory Joe, which brings us to another reason he is so revered. It’s the songs he writes. Ivory Joe was a prolific song writer. As mentioned, with few exceptions he wrote most of the songs on his many singles and the handful of original albums he recorded. By 1957 ....Ivory Joe had written about 2,000 songs. By the time he had passed on to his greater glory, it’s been guesstimated that he had written upwards of 7,000 songs. There’s something to be said for that. It’s an impressive number, but even more so is the number of songs he wrote and recorded for himself and others that have stood the test of time...elegant, unforgettable songs that you could sing and dance to....that are instantly recognizable upon hearing them. Words and music coming together in a holy union---creating a work of art...as only a musical genius like Ivory Joe could do.

Many of Ivory Joe’s most popular songs (as shown on the “secondhandmusic.com” website) have been recorded multiple times by major artists. Highlighted are the following: “Since I Met You Baby” (recorded by 56 artists, including Ivory Joe, Sonny James, Dean Martin, Sam Cooke, Pat Boone, Solomon Burke); “I Almost Lost My Mind” (recorded by 70 artists, including Ivory Joe, Pat Boone, Nat King Cole, Fats Domino, Ray Anthony, Bing Crosby); “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” (recorded by 13 artists, including Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson, Bill Black’s Combo, The Grass Roots, Eddie Riff Orchestra); “My Wish Came True” (recorded by 9 artists, including Elvis Presley, Margaret Whiting, Ronnie McDowell, Emile Ford & the Checkmates). “Empty Arms” (recorded by eight artists, including Ivory Joe, Sonny James, Wanda Jackson, Teresa Brewer, O.C. Smith); “I Need You So” (recorded by 20 artists, including Ivory Joe, Elvis Presley, Don Cornell, The McGuire Sisters, Joan Weber, Della Reese, Clyde McPhatter).

Following are a few noteworthy comments Ivory Joe had made over the years about his songwriting:

”I can sit at home and write songs like a house-wife rollin’ out biscuits” (liner notes by Betty Berger on album: “ Ivory Joe Hunter – Since I Met You Baby” – Polygram Records, 1987, 422830987-1).

“My conception of a song is that it has got to fit the spirit of the time when it is released. I have had a lot of tunes released at the wrong time that would have been hits two years later”. This was Ivory Joe in an interview with writer Ralph J. Gleason in a San Francisco Chronicle article of 5 May 1957 with the caption: “Songwriter Ivory Joe’s Got A Secret---And He Won’t Tell”: In regards to what he writes, Ivory Joe goes on to say that “most of my songs are about losing someone and lots of times I have changed just one word around to make it a hit. My favorite songwriters are that fellow Gershwin and Stephen Foster. That’s real soul music. About the facts of life. Those songs will never die.”

“The songs that have always appealed to me most are those that come to grips with real true-to-life situations. That is what I have tried to get at in my lyrics.” ( Liner Notes on : Ivory Joe Hunter’s Golden Hits: Smash (Mercury) SRS 67037 1963).

This piece began with Ivory Joe being honored by the Grand Ole Opry. Now why in the world would they do something like that??? After all, the Grand Ole Opry is the home of country music...and Ivory Joe was a piano thumping, boogie woogie bluesman, a dripping with honey rhythm & blues kinda guy, a soul singer, a lilting pop crooner, a rock & roller. How could he be all of those things...and be called “country”? Well, he didn’t come to country music late in his life...or career. From the very beginning he was as “country” as you could get. As you’ll hear him talk about it below, he lived it and breathed it. His first published song, the country flavored “Love, Please Don’t Let Me Down” was recorded by Jimmie Davis, the longtime entertainer and Governor of Louisiana in 1944 (Decca 78-6105).

Ivory Joe’s renditions of country classics on his album for Paramount in 1973 (“I’ve Always Been Country” – PAS-6080) will leave you wanting for more (“Today, I Started Loving You Again," “City Lights,” “Shelter of Your Eyes” and “San Antonio Rose”). And more country is what you get with two digital CDs from the Locobop label. The first, “This is My Country” (L21-019, 2008) offers 12 gems including “Walking the Floor Over You,” “Just A Girl I Used to Know,” “One More Memory” and Ivory Joe cutting loose with a yodel on Jimmie Rodger’s “Blue Yodel #1 (T for Texas). The second, “Ivory Joe Hunter – Live at the Grand Ole Opry” (L21-057, 2009) captures Ivory Joe during his frequent visits to the Opry in the early 70s and includes “Empty Arms”, “It’s Too Late”, “I’ll Make It All Up to You,” “He’ll Never Love You the Way I Do” and a couple of must hear renditions of his “Since I Met You Baby”.

Here’s what Ivory Joe had to say about country music:

“Some people say I’m rhythm and blues and some people tell me the stuff I do is pop, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just plain old down to earth country. They started calling my songs R&B back when I started, because at the time you had to be white to sing country”. This is a continuation of the Ivory Joe interview with Micki Robinson from the 1975 Country Music Roundup article: “According to Ivory Joe, country was the only music his mother would permit he and his 13 brothers and sisters to sing”. ‘Hank Williams, Jimmy Rodgers and Gene Austin were her favorites and she’d gather us children up on the front porch and let us sing and play for the neighbors that wanted to hear’.

“Now I’ve been listening to the Grand Old Opry all my life, since I was a little kid growing up in Texas. I played the piano with country/western bands before I made any records and...I’m so glad to be here. I’m a lucky man, so many people love me.” This was Ivory Joe in an interview with Bob Palmer, writing for Rolling Stone Magazine. The article, which appeared in the magazine on 7 Nov 1974, reported on the tribute concert given on behalf of Ivory Joe on October 1. Palmer wrote that Ivory Joe Hunter was a “composer and singer of some of the most melodious blues of the Fifties (including Atlantic Records’ first million seller, “Since I Met You, Baby’) and arguably the first black C&W artist with his million-selling “Empty Arms. His “I almost lost My Mind’ sold four million records.”

“There isn’t much difference between the old blues tunes with their sad refrains and the country ‘sad story’ lyrics. The Nashville cats get their ideas the same way I used to do. We hear somebody say something and we start turning lyrics over in our minds and putting the words down on paper.” This Ivory Joe quote came from an interview with Red O’Donnell (for the “Nashville Sound” column, “Country Sad Tunes Same as Old Blues” in The Dallas Morning News (per the Washington Star Syndicate, Inc.), 17 Dec 1972. In the article, the writer also talks about Ivory Joe Hunter as “an 88-key pounder who has been around the blues horn for a few toots, and is just about the only black writer ever to compose country songs. His country standards include “Empty Arms,” “Since I Met You Baby” and “I Almost Lost My Mind”, all written while he was living in Nashville.”

I have been an Ivory Joe fan since the era of DA’s, side burns, pegged pants and Bugler roll-your-own cigarettes. I continue to buy his music. And while doing that from on-line sellers, I had noticed many different Ivory Joe titles from a large number of companies. That intrigued me, so I took a close look at Amazon.com and ebay.com, the two largest sellers, and found that 29 different Ivory Joe Hunter CD re-issue albums are available for sale from 16 different record labels. It’s telling that so many companies are producing Ivory Joe CDs and his fans continue to buy them. That’s pretty impressive for a man who’s been gone for 44 years. It says a lot about the man’s staying power. Here’s a sampling of the titles: “Since I Met You Baby – The Best of Ivory Joe Hunter” (Razor & Tie),”Rock ‘n’ Roll – Ivory Joe Hunter” (HooDoo Records), “Blues at Sunrise – the Essential Ivory Joe Hunter” (Indigo UK), “Live at the Grand Ole Opry” (Locobop), “Blues, Ballads & Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Ace UK), “Blues at Midnight-Ivory Joe Hunter” (Red Cab Records), “Jukebox Hits -1945-1950 – Ivory Joe Hunter” (Acrobat), “Ivory Joe Hunter – 7th St. Boogie” (Mr R&B) and “Ivory Joe Hunter: Backbeat”: Rhythm of the Blues” (Bear Family).

On Thursday, the 14th of November 1974, funeral services for Ivory Joe Hunter were held at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Kirbyville, Texas. The Facebook page for the church prominently displays a photo of the Texas Historical Commission memorial marker honoring Ivory Joe....which had been placed behind Ivory Joe’s headstone at Jasper County’s Magnolia Springs “Spring Hill” Community Cemetery on April 30, 2010. In contrast to the humble headstone (which is fittingly engraved with music symbols and an imprint of a piano), the marker (which includes a brief bio) honorably and with dignity acknowledges the importance of Ivory Joe Hunter as a person, as well as the historical significance of what the man had accomplished.

In addition to the memorial marker, Ivory Joe was honored as a “Music Legend” by the Museum of the Gulf Coast’s Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur, Texas. In 1975, a Texas Senate Resolution had honored Ivory Joe, stating that “Ivory Joe Hunter was a musician whose achievements were outstanding and who used his talent to bring pleasure to millions.” Other Ivory Joe highlights include his being named Cash Box’s “Jazz and Blues Artist of the Year” for 1950s “I Almost Lost My Mind,” the Gold Record presentation for his classic song “Since I Met You Baby” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 and in 1970 his appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Johnny Otis Show.

Ivory Joe Hunter was an extraordinary singer, songwriter, musician and recording artist who had a long and distinguished 40 plus year career performing in multiple music styles. A rare bird who could do it all. As the gifted entertainer he was, put him in the same league as Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Brook Benton, Jerry Lee Lewis (all of whom have recorded songs written by Ivory Joe) and others who refused to be labeled and stuck in a niche of someone else’s making. There’s nothing those guys couldn’t do when it came to touching our hearts and souls, making beautiful, exciting, memorable music that takes us outside ourselves and infuses us with a wonderful sense of being lifted, transcended, to another plain (whether it be low-down-sad-and-blue, deliriously happy, silky smooth and sensual, rowdy and raucous, or flat-out rockin’): the blues, rhythm & blues, boogie woogie, rock ‘n’ roll, pop, country and gospel. Yeah, damn near the whole shebang!

Ivory Joe Hunter should be celebrated....raised on high to that special place where the truly great, the truly magnificent reside in the halls of remembrance. About his friend Ivory Joe, Isaac Hayes had this to say: “Love, respect and preserve men like Ivory Joe Hunter because they only come this way once”. Yet, sadly, Ivory Joe Hunter’s brilliance is mostly forgotten and he remains a virtual unknown today....not to his loyal fans, those who continue to seek out his music, but by those in the music industry who choose not to recognize his genius. Where are all the halls of fame that could easily justify a place for Ivory Joe in the hallowed space they reserve for the ones they consider worthy. Recognition and respect come swift and easy for some, but for others like Ivory Joe, not so much, if at all. He deserves a-hell-of-a-lot better!

I think Ivory Joe would have been pleased to have this piece end with a mention of the following song, taken from the “Good News” digital album of his songs on the Locobop label (L21-024): “I Got News, Good News”. Ivory Joe (along with a sassy sax and a spirited gospel-like call-and-response choir) belts out a finger snappin’, toe tappin’, roof raisin’ piece of sheer joy that would have any Ivory Joe fan (or anyone for that matter) bouncing out of their seats, clapping their hands, and dancin’ down the aisles....singing hallelujia...”baby’s comin’ home to stay...oh yeah”!

So be it...and amen, Ivory Joe Hunter!