Jesse Belvin, “the very best” singer/songwriter

The following interview with Jesse Belvin, Jr., son of incredible songwriter and singer Jesse Belvin, was conducted by Norman Richmond on Diasporic Music on Uhuru Radio on September 8, 2013. Listen to the full interview also featuring Bunny Goodison of Kingston, Jamaica’s Hot 102 FM at
Norman Richmond: Your daddy joined a group called the Cliques?
Jesse Belvin Jr.: Him and Eu­gene Church. They did duets. “Girl of My Dream,” “My Desire,” “Once Upon a Time,” “I’m in Love”—just an album full of duets. Eugene Church was famous for “Pretty Girls Are Everywhere.”
He and my dad were friends from the beginning. Instead of calling it Eugene and Jesse, they named it the Cliques.
NR: Wasn’t Johnny Guitar Watson part of that?
BG: Yes he was. Johnny Gui­tar Watson was very instrumental in most of my father’s early hits. He and my dad were very, very good friends. When I finally met Johnny Guitar Watson, he shared so many stories and so many per­sonal things about my dad. I was truly blessed to get to know him and those things that he shared with me. You know, because of me losing my parents at such a young age, I’ve cherished those.
NR: Who was Marvin and Johnny? They did some pieces with you father.
Marvin and Johnny were a duet. They did “Cherry Pie” and songs like that. I don’t know what happened to Johnny.
They became “Marvin and Jesse.” Then my father did a few songs with him. I don’t know what stopped it.
My father was kind of the per­son, in a three to four year period, he had sung on 20 different re­cord labels.
My grandmother would ex­plain to me, that those companies would sign him and make serious promises to him. The record didn’t get pushed real strong, and they kind of set him on the shelf.
He would say, “Well, they didn’t keep their promise to me. These guys around the corner are talking ‘bout doing a tad more, so I will go under another name and keep on doing what I do.”
NR: He did all of that before George Clinton.
JB: The icing on the cake was [that] my mother was such a busi­ness person. She put on a busi­ness suit and did his portfolio and marched into RCA Records, one of the two biggests companies at that time. By the time she fin­ished, RCA was signing my dad and they bought all those other companies out that he was under contract with.
That’s his story and one that’s unfortunately not known to the masses. There was racism in­volved.
He was involved in an acci­dent. It’s known that they had to be escorted out of town because they were in Little Rock, Arkan­sas. There was nothing but racial tension down there after that Little Rock Nine stuff and they didn’t want to integrate the schools.
The show had to be stopped two or three times. They eventual­ly had to be escorted out of town.
What they didn’t know is that their cars had been tampered with. When they had the acci­dent, the first highway patrolman on the scene said that there was definitely foul play because all the tires on the car had been slashed. The thing that stuck with me for many years of my life is to know that to date, there has been no in­vestigation.
NR: It is 2013, and there is still no investigation.
JB: Still no investigation. So I’m saying “Now how in one breath they gonna say it’s definitely foul play, the tires have been slashed and in the next breath say that to date there has been no investiga­tion.”
I’ve sat and talked to my grandmother about it. She just kept it real and said, “Well, son, in that time and era killing black people was just routine. They were just a couple of more dead black people. It wasn’t nothing im­portant.”
It was like you’re really play­ing against a stacked deck.
My whole life’s mission is to make sure that because of his contributions to the music indus­try, if you talk about Jesse Belvin or you talk about his accomplish­ments or what he contributed to the music industry, you have no choice but to talk about the dark side of white America. Because they went down there and lost their lives.
NR: He also wrote Earth An­gel. It’s a very big song. Any­time you look at movies depict­ing what happened in the ‘50s you’re gonna definitely hear Earth Angel playing in there.
JB: [Jesse] didn’t [get royal­ties from that] in the beginning. Earth Angel had been stolen from my dad when he was in the service. It was stolen out of my grandmother’s piano studio where he had several of his songs. While he was in the ser­vice, he heard it playing on the radio, and it was a big hit for the Penguins.
There was a guy by the name of Dootsie Williams. He re­corded the Pen­guins and part of his contract with them [was that] he had to own the publishing. So they agreed to that.
Like my grandmother ex­plained to me, back then most of those young kids that were mak­ing this music in the era of my father, they just wanted to hear themselves on the radio. They didn’t understand at all the busi­ness of the industry.
Then when my father hears his music on the radio—and its a big hit already—he went to his superiors, and they let him have a leave of absence to go home and take care of his business with his music.
He went to court and won the rights back to his song in 1957. He died in 1960, and for whatever reason, he never got it back in his estate.
Gaynel Hodge and my dad did quite a bit of recording and singing together, and on the West Coast, they were the doo-wop kings. Well, when my father won the rights back to Earth Angel, Gaynel was one of his witnesses.
So, as a token of apprecia­tion after he won it back, he gave Gaynel one-third of the song. When they had the accident and died, Gaynel kept that informa­tion to himself for 25-30 years. My grandmother wasn’t interested in any of the business part of the music. We were babies so we didn’t have any way of knowing.
Finally one day, I’m in my late 30s, early 40s, [Gaynel] walks into my job with a big manila envelope and he hands me those court pa­pers that I should have had as a child. And so when he hands me the court papers, I read them and saw that my father had won the rights back to his song in 1957.
I then went back to court with it and finally won it, and it’s back in his estate.
NR: I listened to an inter­view that Wade Adams did on Ron Bobb-Simple’s show on the Uhuru Radio network and he pointed out in that interview that Jessie Belvin helped ev­erybody know about the busi­ness so they would not have to go through being ripped off like he had been ripped off.
Stevie Wonder said that Jessie Belvin was the greatest singer.
JB: Part of his assignment when they signed him with RCA was that he was the vocal coach for Elvis. They paid him to help teach Elvis how to do what he was trying to do. If you listen to my father’s recording of “My Sat­ellite” and “Just to Say Hello,” you will get a clear indication of what Elvis was trying to do.
Lou Rawls said, I followed Sam Cooke to the West Coast because we thought we would get a better deal on a major label, but by the time we got to the West Coast, we all sat at Jessie Belvin’s feet because he was the king.
NR: Jessie Belvin was nom­inated for a Grammy during the first Grammy awards and there’s never been an unsung or a TV show about Jessie. He’s not in the Hall of Fame or none of that, which he should be in.
JB: He’s not even in the Hall of Fame. My opinion is how can that be with all the contributions that he made? But you look at that Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and Etta James said it best: There are people in there that shouldn’t be in there, and there are people that aren’t in there who should be. She spoke of my dad being the main one that should be.


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