Police have launched an investigation into the death of R&B singer Jesse Belvin, who died today (February 6, 1960) in a car crash in New Hope, Arkansas.
According to original reports, Belvin, Jackie Wilson and Arthur Prysock left a Little Rock, Arkansas segregated dance, when a “white group appeared late” at the hall for their “dance session.”
The “hall” was The Robinson Auditorium. The singers were there to perform two sets – one for a black crowd and one for a white audience.
Wilson allegedly refused to do the white only set in protest to segregation. After arguing with promoters, he was allegedly “ordered out of town at gunpoint,” the Los Angeles Sentinel reported.
It has since been revealed that all three singers actually fled the dance hall, after they were threatened by a white mob for attempting to perform for an integrated crowd.
Police confirmed that the tires on Wilson’s 1960 Cadillac and Prysock’s 1959 Lincoln Continental were slashed.
Belvin’s 1959 Cadillac was parked next to the other superstar’s luxury vehicles, leading police said the back wheels had “obviously” been tampered with, leading them to believe his tires were also slashed.
Just moments after fleeing the concert, Belvin and his wife Joann, 25, were killed when the Cadillac was involved in a two-car collision near New Hope, Arkansas, while traveling to Fort, Worth, Texas for a gig.
Belvin’s friend Charles Ford, 34, of New York also died in the crash, as did the driver Max Nohl, of Milwaukee and his wife.
Belvin had just inked a major deal with RCA, the label that would go on to push Sam Cooke to superstardom after Belvin’s death.
“Even now, I consider him the greatest singer of my generation – Rhythm & Blues, Rock & Roll, crooner, you name it. He was going to be bigger than Sam Cooke, bigger than Nat King Cole,” Etta James stated.
Ray Charles agreed – “I was kind of thinking that Jesse would take Nat ‘King’ Cole’s place in the balladeer category.”
These tragedies and other racist acts eventually led to the sit-in movement and the push for African-American’s to have equality in the United States.