Hank Ballard, the singer/songwriter whose hit “The Twist” ushered a nationwide dance craze in the 1960s, has died. Ballard, who was suffering from throat cancer, died yesterday (March 2) at his home, friends said. Friend and caretaker Anna Ayala said Ballard’s birth records indicate he was born in 1927, but biographical information lists his birthdate as 1936.
In 1958, Ballard wrote and recorded “The Twist,” but it was only released on the B-side of a record. One year later, Chubby Checker debuted his own version of “The Twist” on Dick Clark’s Philadelphia television show.
It soon topped the charts and launched a dance craze that prompted the creation of other Twist songs, including “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers and “Twistin’ the Night Away” by Sam Cooke.
In a 1996 interview, Ballard described music as his medicine. “If you’re looking for youth, you’re looking for longevity, just take a dose of rock’n’roll,” he said. “It keeps you going. Just like the caffeine in your coffee. Rock ‘n’ roll is good for the soul, for the well being, for the psyche, for your everything. I love it. I can’t even picture being without rock ‘n’ roll.”
Ballard was discovered in the early 1950s by writer-producer Johnny Otis. He was lead singer for the Royals, which changed its name to the Midnighters. Ballard’s songs were sometimes banned from 1950s radio for their sexually suggestive lyrics.
By the early 1960s, he had charted 22 singles on the rhythm and blues charts, including “Work With Me Annie” — the biggest R&B hit of 1954, selling more than 1 million copies. The song was part of a well-known trilogy of risque R&B numbers that included “Annie Had a Baby” and “Annie’s Aunt Fannie.”
Ballard and the Midnighters didn’t suffer from Checker’s version of “The Twist.” By the mid 1960s, the group had three simultaneous hits in the pop top-40: “Finger Poppin’ Time,” “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go,” and their original version of “The Twist.”
Ballard, who was born John H. Kendricks in Detroit, grew up singing in church in Bessemer, Ala. At 15, he moved back to Detroit and set out to form a doo wop group while working on the Ford Motor Co. assembly line.
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