Johnny Ace: Age 25 | Cause Of Death: RUSSIAN ROULETTE

The Late Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R&B to Rock ‘N’ Roll by James M. Salem

(John Marshall Alexander Jr, 9 June 1929, Memphis, TN, d. 25 December 1954, Houston, TX)

Ace began his professional career as an R&B singer in 1949 playing piano in a band that eventually evolved into the Beale Streeters, which included at various times B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Roscoe Gordon and Earl Forest.  Ace, by committing a spectacular suicide playing Russian Roulette behind stage at a concert on Christmas Day, 1954, made his death his claim to fame, unfairly obscuring the fine music of his legacy.    Ace scored his biggest hit of all posthumously. His haunting “Pledging My Love” (cut with the Johnny Otis orchestra in support) remained atop Billboard’s R&B lists for ten weeks in early 1955. One further hit, “Anymore,” exhausted Duke’s stockpile of Ace masters, so they tried to clone the late pianist’s success by recruiting Johnny’s younger brother (St. Clair Alexander) to record as Buddy Ace.  When that didn’t work out, Duke boss Don Robey took singer Jimmy Lee Land, renamed him Buddy Ace, and recorded him all the way into the late ’60s.