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Screamin' Jay Hawkins

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Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (Jalacy Hawkins, July 18, 1929 – February 12, 2000) was an American musician, singer, and actor, famed for his powerful, operatic vocal delivery and wildly theatrical performances of songs such as “I Put a Spell on You” and “Frenzy”.

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 (Hawkins has cited Paul Robeson as his musical idol in interviews), but when his initial ambitions failed he began his career as a conventional blues singer and pianist.

Hawkins was an avid and formidable boxer. In 1949, he was the middleweight boxing champion of Alaska.
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, although it failed to make the Billboard pop or R&B charts.

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