Jesse Belvin

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Jesse Belvin
Compilation CD cover
Compilation CD cover
Background information
Birth nameJesse Lorenzo Belvin
Born(1932-12-15)December 15, 1932
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
DiedFebruary 6, 1960(1960-02-06) (aged 27)
Hope, Arkansas, U.S.
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, piano
Years active1950–60
LabelsModern Records, Dot, Impact, RCA, Recorded In Hollywood Tender Records
Associated actsBig Jay McNeely, The Hollywood Flames, The Shields

Jesse Lorenzo Belvin (December 15, 1932 – February 6, 1960) was an American rock and roll singer, pianist and songwriter popular in the 1950s, whose success was cut short by his death in a car crash aged 27.[1]


Belvin was born in San Antonio, Texas,[2][3] and moved with his family to Los Angeles, California, at the age of five.[1]

In 1950, he joined Three Dots and a Dash, saxophonist Big Jay McNeely's backing vocal quartet, and featured prominently on their record releases. In 1952, he joined Specialty Records. Although his early solo records were unsuccessful, his fourth record, "Dream Girl", credited to Jesse & Marvin and featuring Marvin Phillips on saxophone,[1] reached No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart in 1953.[4][5][6]

Along with Charles Wright, Belvin was involved with Kent-Modern A&R man Tony Hilder in the late 1950s.[7]


Having been drafted into the army around 1953, Belvin continued to write songs. His composition "Earth Angel", eventually co-credited to Belvin and Hollywood Flames singers Curtis Williams and Gaynel Hodge after a legal dispute, was recorded by The Penguins, and became one of the first R&B singles to cross over onto the pop charts, selling 1 million copies in 1954/1955.[5]

In 1956, he signed a contract with Modern Records, but continued to sing for other labels under different names. His biggest hit was "Goodnight My Love",[1] which reached No. 7 on the R&B chart. The piano on the session reportedly was played by 11-year-old Barry White. The song became the closing theme to Alan Freed's rock and roll radio shows.[5]

Belvin's other recordings for Modern were less successful, and in 1958, he recorded on Dot Records with a group, the Shields, who included lead singer Frankie Ervin and guitarist Johnny "Guitar" Watson.[1] Their record "You Cheated" reached No. 15 on the U.S. pop chart and No. 11 on the R&B chart.[6] He also recorded with Eugene Church as the Cliques on a less successful single "The Girl in My Dreams", which was covered by the Four Lovers (two of whose members, including Frankie Valli, would later become The Four Seasons).[5]

By early 1959, Tender Records had a 45 released that was credited to Belvin and The Capris. The single "Beware" was composed by J. Dolphin and backed with "Endless Love", a composition by K. C. Reeth and Robert Hafner.[8][9]

Inspired by his wife and manager Jo Ann to develop his style, Belvin signed to RCA Records in 1959, and immediately had a Top 40 hit with "Guess Who", written by his wife.[1] This song originally started as a love letter from her to him, and Belvin turned it into the hit song it became.[10] He also recorded the album Just Jesse Belvin, developing a mature and sophisticated sound on ballads. His style was influenced by Nat "King" Cole and Billy Eckstine,[1] and became a model for Sam Cooke and others. He acquired the nickname "Mr. Easy", and the record company began molding him as a potential crossover star for white audiences, as well as a professional rival to Capitol Records' recording star Nat "King" Cole.[5]

Belvin recorded a further series of tracks later in the year, with arranger Marty Paich and an orchestra including saxophonist Art Pepper. The songs included soulful covers of standards such as "Blues in the Night", "In the Still of the Night", and "Makin' Whoopee", and were issued on the album Mr. Easy.[11]

However, before the album was issued, and shortly after finishing a performance on a bill with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and Marv Johnson on February 6, 1960, Belvin and his wife were killed in a head-on collision at Hope, Arkansas.[12] The concert was the first concert played before an integrated audience in the history of Little Rock, and was stopped twice by interruptions from whites in the audience, shouting racial epithets and urging the white teenagers in attendance to leave at once. There had been several death threats on Belvin before the concert, which led to speculation that his car had been tampered with before the accident. The 2019 Netflix documentary Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke included statements attributing the cause of Belvin's car accident to a slashed tire(s).[13]

Belvin was buried in Los Angeles.[2]

In 1962, the single "Tonight My Love", backed with "Looking For Love", was released posthumously on Tony Hilder's Impact label.[14] Crown released The Unforgettable Jesse Belvin in 1961.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Colin Larkin, ed. (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Fifties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. p. 38. ISBN 1-85227-937-0.
  2. ^ a b Eagle, Bob; Eric S. LeBlanc (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 373. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  3. ^ "FamilySearch". Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  4. ^ "A Very Enlightening Interview w/Jesse Belvin Jr. Pt.1" on YouTube
  5. ^ a b c d e "Jesse Belvin | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Jesse Belvin Page". Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  7. ^ Who Put the Bomp No. 14, Fall 1975 – p. 12, "The Tony Hilder Story" by John Blair & Bill Smart.
  8. ^ Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third series - p. 1192, MUSIC.
  9. ^ The Billboard, February 23, 1959 – p. 51 * Reviews of New Pop Records.
  10. ^ Shaw, Arnold (1978), Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm & Blues. New York: Crowell-Collier Press, p. 210.
  11. ^ "Mr. Easy - Jesse Belvin | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  12. ^ "Rock-N-Roll Singer Jessie Belvin, Wife Die in Crash", Jet Magazine, February 25, 1960, p. 59.
  13. ^ "ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke | Netflix Official Site". 2019. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  14. ^ "Bomp 14 (Fall 1975)". October 21, 1975. Retrieved October 21, 2019.

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