R&B singer Jesse Belvin was born today (December 15th, 1932) in San Antonio Texas.
Although Belvin’s name may not be a household one now, he was the author of some of the most famous pop songs in music history.
In addition to co-authoring and singing the American classic “Goodnight My Love,” Jesse Belvin was also the author of The Penguins’ 1955 hit “Earth Angel.”
At a young age Belvin and his family relocated to Los Angeles and like many singers he was raised in the church.
In his early teens he joined with Big Jay McNeely and scored two R&B hits, which led to a deal with Art Rupe’s Specialty Records, which also counted Lloyd Price and Sam Cooke among the artists on the label.
Just as Belvin’s career was gaining momentum, he was drafted.
While he was home on leave, he wrote the song “Earth Angel,” which was inspired by a white woman, who lived in his neighborhood.
Belvin and the other musicians would pedal their songs on a four-block stretch of Selma Avenue in Hollywood where the publishing companies operated.
In Peter Guralnick’s book Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cook, Specialty Records producer Rene Hall described Belvin’s cavalier approach to song writing.
“Jesse would record for anybody. I don’t think he ever had a contract with any one company in those days,” Rene Hall said. “Jesse could sit down and write songs on the spot, but he’d always turn around and sell them outright for $100 or so.”
Other artists or authors would then claim credit for the songs that Belvin wrote.
The success of the million selling single, “Earth Angel,” for example, was the subject of a two-year lawsuit over royalties and who wrote the song.
Belvin was eventually given 1/3rd writing credit for the song along with Curtis Williams of The Penguins and another writer.
Belvin hit pay dirt in 1956 with the classic American song “Goodnight My Love.”
But once again Belvin, who created the songs famous chorus and bridge, sold his portion of the song for just $400.
The song became so popular that it was used as the closing theme for both Dick Clark and Alan Freed’s shows.
“Goodnight My Love” also featured an 11-year-old session player, who would go on to achieve fame as Barry White.
Belvin was also somewhat of a mentor to a young Sam Cooke, who had recently signed to the label and relocated to Los Angeles.”
Belvin’s death came in the turbulent times of the 1950’s, in a very racist Arkansas.
Jesse Belvin and his wife, JoAnn, were killed just four hours after Belvin had performed the first integrated concert in Little Rock.
According to reports, White supremacist had halted the show twice and Belvin had received at least 6 death threats.
Conspiracy immediately broke loose when a State Trooper revealed that the rear tires on Belvin’s Cadillac had been tampered with, possibly causing the fatal head on collision on February 6, 1960, in Fairhope, Arkansas.
Belvin was just 28-years-old at the time of his passing.