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Johnny Burnette


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Memphis, United States

Johnny Burnette (March 25, 1934 – August 14, 1964) was an American pioneer from Memphis, TN. Along with his older brother Dorsey Burnette and a friend, Paul Burlison, he was the founding member of Johnny Burnette & The Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio.

John Joseph Burnette was born to Willie May and Dorsey Burnett Sr. in Memphis, Tennessee. (The ‘e’ at the end of the name was added later.) Johnny grew up with his parents and Dorsey Jr. in a public housing project in the Lauderdale Courts area of Memphis, which from 1948 until 1954 was also the home of Gladys and Vernon Presley and their son Elvis.

Early press reports, dating back to 1956, claimed that Johnny attended Humes High School with Elvis Presley, which was not true. Johnny went initially to the Blessed Sacrament Parochial School and after graduating from the eighth grade he moved on to the Catholic High School in Memphis. Here he showed an aptitude for sports, being on the school baseball team and playing as linebacker on the school’s football team. In one famous incident, he was knocked out in a tackle by future singer Red West. Both he and Dorsey were also keen amateur boxers and were to become Golden Gloves Champions. After leaving high school, Johnny tried his hand at becoming a professional boxer, but after one fight with a sixty dollar purse and a broken nose or an encounter with Norris Ray, a top paycheck of $150, he decided to quit the ring. He went to work on the barges traversing the Mississippi River, where Dorsey Burnette also worked. Johnny worked mainly as a deck hand while Dorsey worked as an oiler.


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