Ivory Joe Hunter
Oct. 10, 1914 - Nov. 8, 1974 Port Arthur, TX
"Ivory" Joe Hunter was born in Kirbyville, Texas, and moved
to Port Arthur at an early age. Born into a large and
musically accomplished family, his father was a guitarist and
preacher, and his mother sang spirituals. Hunter's parents died when he was still young, and he lived with various relatives. Only thirteen, he learned to play the piano mainly by ear before his godmother saw to it that he had formal music lessons.
He continued to play the piano in grade school and at Lincoln High School in Port Arthur. He also sang with the local Albert Church choir and with several gospel quartets. As word of his performances grew, people came from all over Texas to hear Hunter's gospel solos at the Albert Church. At sixteen, Hunter was recorded for the Library of Congress by Alan Lomax, a folk researcher.
Hunter continued to work on his own until about 1935 when he put together a band with his brother Lee. They played in a variety of clubs in Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, and Houston. By this time, Hunter had become interested in musical styles beyond the gospel and spirituals of his childhood and began to write some of his own blues songs.
In 1943, Hunter made his first record, "Blues at Sunrise," on his own label, Ivory Records, out of Oakland, California.
Ivory Records was one of the first black-owned recording studios. The song was a regional success, but the recording label was short-lived. Hunter moved to Berkeley, California, and founded Pacific Records with three deejays from KER Radio. Hunter wrote and recorded many national hits. His compositions were also covered by a number of popular artists of the day, including Elvis Presley, who had two number one hits with "Ain't that Loving You Baby" and "My Wish Came True."
Although he was extremely successful as a rhythm and blues
artist, in 1950, Hunter crossed over to pop music. His pop career reached its height that year with MGM Records. He was consistently in the top ten of the R & B charts with songs like "Landlord Blues," "I Need You So." "I Almost Lost My Mind" was the biggest hit of his career, reaching number one on the R & B charts and moving to the bestseller lists in England and Europe.
After 1950, Hunter's career slowed, and his contract with
MGM was not renewed. In the mid-50s, he signed with Atlantic
and again hit the top ten with "Since I Met You Baby," and he was presented with a gold record on the Ed Sullivan Show. Hunter recorded less but continued to write and, by 1972, had written an astounding 7,000 songs.
Shortly before he died of cancer in 1974, Hunter was given a
tribute at the Grand Ole Opry for his recording of Hank Williams songs. He also received a BMI Songwriter Award that year. After his death, the Texas Legislature passed a resolution paying tribute to Hunter and his contributions to millions in Texas and around the world. His remains were buried in his native Kirbyville. While performing, he was billed as The Baron of the Boogie and The Happiest Man Alive.