led a large jump blues band that enjoyed tremendous success during the 1940s and '50s. The suave bandleader spotlighted a series of talented singers, including balladeers
's understated delivery (beautifully spotlighted on the sumptuous ballad "Since I Fell for You") and
's crisply danceable "Walk-Em Rhythm" that made the aggregation so successful for so long.
began taking piano lessons at age four. Although he specialized professionally in tasty R&B, classical music remained one of his passions. In 1939, Buddy Johnson
waxed his first 78 for Decca, "Stop Pretending (So Hep You See)." Shortly thereafter, Ella
joined her older brother; her delicious vocal on "Please Mr. Johnson" translated into long-term employment.Buddy
had assembled a nine-piece orchestra by 1941 and visited the R&B charts often for Decca during wartime with "Let's Beat Out Some Love," "Baby Don't You Cry," the chart-topping "When My Man Comes Home," and "That's the Stuff You Gotta Watch." Ella
cut her beloved rendering of "Since I Fell for You" in 1945, a year after Buddy
waxed his jiving gem "Fine Brown Frame."
In addition to their frequent jaunts on the R&B hit parade, the Johnson
organization barnstormed the country to sellout crowds throughout the '40s. Buddy
moved over to Mercury Records in 1953 and scored more smashes with Ella
's "Hittin' on Me" and "I'm Just Your Fool," the latter a 1954 standout that was later purloined by Chicago harpist Little Walter
Rock & roll eventually halted Buddy Johnson
's momentum, but his band (tenor saxophonist Purvis Henson
was a constant presence in the reed section) kept recording for Mercury through 1958, switched to Roulette the next year, and bowed out with a solitary session for Hy Weiss
' Old Town label in 1964.
Singer Lenny Welch
ensured the immortality of "Since I Fell for You" when his velvety rendition of the Johnson
-penned ballad reached the uppermost reaches of the pop charts in 1963. It was a perfect match of song and singer; Welch
's smooth, assured delivery would have fit in snugly with the Johnson
band during its heyday a couple of decades earlier.