March 2, 2003 – Hank Ballard was born John Henry Kendricks in Detroit, Michigan on November 18, 1927, but, along with his brother, Dove Ballard, grew up and attended school in Bessemer, Alabama after the death of their father. He lived with his paternal aunt and her husband, and began singing in church. His major vocal inspiration during his formative years was the “Singing Cowboy”, Gene Autry, and in particular, his signature song, “Back in the Saddle Again”. During the 1960s, Ballard’s cousin, Florence Ballard, was a member of the Detroit girl group The Supremes.
Ballard returned to Detroit in his teens and later worked on the assembly line for Ford Motor Company. In 1951, he formed a doo-wop group and was discovered by the legendary band leader Johnny Otis, and was signed to sing with a group called The Royals. The group changed its name to The Midnighters to avoid confusion with The “5” Royales.
Their debut single in 1953 “Get It” was shunned by many radio stations because it contained sexually oriented lyrics, yet still reached to no. 6 on the Billboard R&B charts. The group then changed its name to The Midnighters to avoid confusion with The “5” Royales. In 1954, Ballard wrote a song called “Work with Me, Annie” that was drawn from “Get It”. It became The Midnighters’ first major R&B hit, spending seven weeks at number 1 on the R&B charts and also selling well in mainstream markets, along with the answer songs “Annie Had a Baby” and “Annie’s Aunt Fannie”; all were banned by the FCC from radio air play. Their third major hit was “Sexy Ways”, a song that cemented the band’s reputation as one of the most risqué groups of the time.
They had four other R&B chart hits in 1954–55, but no others until 1959, by which time the group was billed as “Hank Ballard and The Midnighters”.
Between 1959 and 1961 they had several more both on the R&B and Pop charts, starting with “Teardrops on Your Letter”, a number 4 R&B hit in 1960 that had as its B-side the Ballard-written song “The Twist“. A few months later, Chubby Checker’s cover version of the song went to number 1 on the pop charts across the world . It would return to the top of the charts again in 1962–the only song in the rock’n’roll era to reach number 1 in two different years. (Come on let’s twist again, like we did last summer).
Ballard & the Midnighters had several other hit singles onto 1962, including the Grammy-nominated “Finger Poppin’ Time” (1960) and “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” (1960) which hit number 7 and number 6, respectively, on the Billboard pop charts. They did not reach the charts again after 1962 and dissolved in 1965.
Hank tried to launch a solo career, working with James Brown, but he re-formed The Midnighters, and The Midnighters Band, they toured from the mid 1980’s til 2002.
Hank Ballard died from throat cancer on 2 March 2003 at age 75.
In 1990, Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; the other Midnighters were inducted in 2012.