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Ivory Joe Hunter (October 10, 1914 – November 8, 1974) was an African American R&B singer, songwriter, and pianist, best known for his hit recording, "Since I Met You, Baby" (1956). Billed as The Baron of the Boogie, he was also known as The Happiest Man Alive.
He was christened Ivory Joe as an infant; "Ivory Joe Hunter" is therefore not a nickname or a stage name, but the artist's real birth name.
Ivory Joe Hunter was born in Kirbyville, Texas in 1914. As a youngster, Ivory Joe developed an early interest in music from his father, Dave Hunter, who played guitar, and his gospel-singing mother. He was a talented pianist by the age of 13, and as a teenager, Hunter made his first recording for Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress in 1933.
Radio and recordings
In the early 1940s, Hunter had his own radio show in Beaumont, Texas, on KFDM, where he eventually became program manager, and in 1942 he moved to Los Angeles, joining Johnny Moore's Three Blazers in the mid 1940s. When he wrote and recorded his first song, "Blues at Sunrise", with the Three Blazers for his own label, Ivory Records, it became a regional hit.
In the late 1940s Hunter founded Pacific Records, and in 1947 he recorded for Four Star Records and King Records. Two years later, he recorded his first R&B hits; on "I Quit My Pretty Mama" and "Guess Who" he was backed by members of Duke Ellington's band.
After signing with MGM Records, he recorded "I Almost Lost My Mind," which topped the 1950 R&B charts and would later (in the wake of Hunter's success with "Since I Met You Baby") be recorded by Pat Boone. "I Need You" was a number two R&B hit that same year. With his smooth delivery, Hunter became a hot R&B commodity, and he also began to be noticed in the country music community. In April 1951, he made his network TV debut on You Asked For It.
By 1954, he had recorded more than a hundred songs and moved to Atlantic Records. His first song to cross over to the pop charts was "Since I Met You Baby" (1956). It was to be his only top-40 pop song, climbing to the number 12 position.
While visiting Memphis, Tennessee, in the spring of 1957, Hunter was invited by Elvis Presley to visit Graceland. The two spent the day together, singing "I Almost Lost My Mind" and other songs together. Hunter commented, "He showed me every courtesy, and I think he's one of the greatest."
Hunter's "Empty Arms" and "Yes, I Want You" also made the pop charts, and he had a minor hit with "City Lights" in 1959, just before his popularity began to decline. Hunter came back as a country singer in the late 1960s, making regular Grand Ole Opry appearances and recording an album titled "I've Always Been Country."
During the 1950s, white artists recorded covers of top R&B tunes. In 1956, when Pat Boone recorded Hunter's smash 1950 R&B hit, "I Almost Lost My Mind", it became a number one hit. Country singer Sonny James issued a version of "Since I Met You, Baby" and it topped the country charts in 1969, paving the way for Hunter's album The Return of Ivory Joe Hunter and his appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Jerry Lee Lewis covered "Since I Met You, Baby" in 1969 as well.
Hunter was a prolific songwriter, and some estimate he wrote more than 7,000 songs. Among those songs are two that Presley put in the top 20: "My Wish Came True" and "Ain't That Loving You, Baby". Elvis also recorded "I Need You So", "It's Still Here", and "I Will Be True".
In 1974, lung cancer led to Hunter's death in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 60. He was buried in his native Kirbyville.