August 3, 1937 - 1983 Port Arthur
Born James Harold Young on Aug. 3, 1937, in Beaumont, Texas, Young became an outstanding singer, saxophonist, and band leader known as "Big Sambo."
He began performing in nightclubs as a teenager and appeared on the teen dance program "Jive at Five" on KPAC-TV in Port Arthur with his band Big Sambo and the House Wreckers. Their 1962 recording, "The Rains Came," made the national charts and sold over half a million records... "We recorded 'The Rains Came' at Cosimo Matassa's studio in New Orleans," recalls producer Huey Meaux. "James had an unusual voice; the vocal we had on the record was really haunting. As soon as we recorded it, I knew we were gonna have a hit." The song was also a hit recording for the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1966.
When the record was introduced to the Chicago market, it was halted by the NAACP over objections to the use of the name "Sambo." The band subsequently changed its name. Although they continued to perform and even appeared in "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine" starring Vincent Price, the name change made it difficult to capitalize on the name recognition associated with their 1960s hit. The band eventually broke up in the 1970s. Young was married to a public school teacher, and after the band's breakup, he felt obligated to hold a steady job. His love of music and entertainment drew Young to the Port Arthur Civic Center when it opened in 1979.
Civic Center director Carroll Albritton recalls, "We need crews to clean up the Center after each show. Big Sambo came up and offered to help, because he said he knew entertainers and wanted to see the shows." As people realized who James Young was, the Jaycees asked him to play in their Fifties rock show. After his 1981 concert at the Civic Center, Big Sambo, the star of the night, helped clean up the hall. At the time of his death in 1983, he was employed by the City of Port Arthur. James Harold Young is buried in Johnson Memorial Cemetery. He is enshrined in the Museum of the Gulf Coast, Music Hall of Fame. - M.B.