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Sat, 11.16.1901

The Godfather of Rock & Roll, Jesse Stone

Jesse Stone

Jesse Stone was born on this date in 1901. He was a Black band leader, song writer, and music producer.

Born in Atchison, KS, Stone was the grandson of Tennessee slaves.  He began performing when he was five years old in his family's touring minstrel show.  During the 1920s, Stone was the leader of a jazz band that included saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.  Around 1936, Duke Ellington helped Stone get work at New York City's Cotton Club. During this time Stone became a staff arranger, composer, and comedy writer at the Apollo Theater. Stone's musical career included working folk concerts, dance, R&B, and rock & roll bands.

He joined the staff at Atlantic Records as a producer, songwriter, and arranger in the late 1940s. During that decade, Stone wrote "Idaho," which was played by Guy Lombardo and sold three million copies. Stone understood the racism in the industry and knew that only the talent of Black Americans in music would break the color barrier with white artist playing Black music.

Stone, Herb Abrams (his partner), and the Cleveland DJ Allen Freid, made a trip throughout the south, eventually finding Bill Haley & The Comets.  It was Stone who made the decision that this band was the one to do it. He went on to record Haley performing his song "Shake Rattle and Roll" on Decca Records.

The single sold a million copies, peaking at number seven pop on Billboard's charts during summer 1954 and assisting in the acceptance of "Negro music" by white audiences. It was included on the album "Rock Around the Clock," which hit number 12 pop in early 1956 and boasted the million-selling title track that held the number one pop spot for eight weeks and hit number three R&B in spring 1955 in the 1954 Glenn Ford movie "Blackboard Jungle" and later used as an early opening track for ABC-TV's 1970s sitcom "Happy Days" and "Burn the Candle."

Epic Records star Roy Hamilton played Stone's "Don't Let Go," taking it to number two R&B in early 1958. "Don't Let Go" was also done by Issac Hayes whose disco string and horn-laced version hit number 11 R&B in fall 1979, and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airman's version charted at number 56 pop in early 1975.  Stone also wrote the classic "Flip Flop and Fly" and "Your Cash Ain't Nothing but Trash." Stone, who also worked under the pseudonym Charles E. Calhoun, was a key player in the development of artists such as Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, the Drifters, and the Clovers.

At the age of 97, Jesse Stone died April 1, 1999, in Altamonte Springs, FL.

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