Screamin' Jay Hawkins
(July 18, 1929-February 12, 2000)Screamin' Jay Hawkins was an outrageous performer prone to emerging out of coffins on-stage, with a flaming skull named Henry his constant companion, Screamin' Jay was an insanely theatrical figure long before it was even remotely acceptable!
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Hawkins studied classical piano as a child and learned guitar in his twenties.His initial goal was to become an opera singer but when his initial ambitions failed he began his career as a conventional blues singer and pianist.
In 1951, Hawkins joined guitarist Tiny Grimes's band, and was subsequently featured on some of Grimes's recordings.When Hawkins became a solo performer, he often performed in a stylish wardrobe of leopard skins, red leather and wild hats.
His most successful recording, "I Put a Spell on You" (1956), was selected as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. According to the AllMusic Guide to the Blues, "Hawkins originally envisioned the tune as a refined ballad." The entire band was intoxicated during a recording session where "Hawkins screamed, grunted, and gurgled his way through the tune with utter drunken abandon." The resulting performance was no ballad but instead a "raw, guttural track" that became his greatest commercial success and reportedly surpassed a million copies in sales. The performance was mesmerizing, although Hawkins himself blacked out and was unable to remember the session. Afterward he had to relearn the song from the recorded version.Soon after the release of "I Put a Spell on You", radio disc jockey Alan Freed offered Hawkins $300 to emerge from a coffin onstage. Hawkins accepted and soon created an outlandish stage persona.
Hawkins died on February 12, 2000 after surgery to treat an aneurysm. He left behind many children by many women; an estimated 55 at the time of his death, and upon investigation, that number "soon became perhaps 75 offspring.