Hawkins, Screamin’ Jay [Jalacy ]
- Rob Bowman
(b Cleveland, OH, July 18, 1929; d Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, Feb 29, 2000). American Rhythm and blues songwriter, pianist, and singer. Classically trained as a pianist, Hawkins’s primary vocal influence was Paul Robeson and his original goal was to sing opera. In 1951, he joined R&B guitarist Tiny Grimes’s band. Over the next few years he served similar stints with Johnny Sparrow, James Moody, Arnett Cobb, Bill Doggett, and Lynn Hope while recording as a solo artist for Atlantic, Timely, Mercury, and its subsidiary,Wing.
Hawkins’s career took on significance with his 1955 recording of his self-penned “I Put a Spell on You.” Although the song was originally conceived as a romantic ballad, an inebriated Hawkins screamed and grunted his way through the studio recording. The result was anover-the-top performance that was unprecedented in popular music history. Banned by many radio stations, “I Put a Spell on You” holds the distinction of selling over one million copies while never charting. Encouraged by famed radio DJ and concert promoter Alan Freed, Hawkins’s already outlandish live performances began to feature horror movie props such as a smoking skull on a stick and rubber snakes; the singer opened his performances by emerging out of a coffin. All the while Hawkins would dress in a green turban, red tuxedo, purple tie, and white shoes. A case could easily be made that this was the beginning of shock rock with Hawkins directly or indirectly influencing Screamin’ Lord Sutch, Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and many others....