Johnny Ace an up and coming rhythm and blues singer had it all going his way until he shot himself on Christmas of 1954. For some reason Russian roulette is identified ,as the cause of his death. However two eyewitnesses tell a different story.
Big Mama Thornton’s bass player Curtis Tillman, who was in the room at the time said this in Wikipedia about his death:
It was widely reported that Ace killed himself playing Russian roulette. Big Mama Thornton‘s bass player Curtis Tillman, however, who witnessed the event, said, “I will tell you exactly what happened! Johnny Ace had been drinking and he had this little pistol he was waving around the table and someone said ‘Be careful with that thing…’ and he said ‘It’s okay! Gun’s not loaded…see?’ and pointed it at himself with a smile on his face and ‘Bang!’ – sad, sad thing. Big Mama ran outta that dressing room yelling ‘Johnny Ace just killed himself!”
However Big Mama Thornton, who also witnessed the shooting tells a slightly different story:
Thornton said in a written statement (included in the book The Late Great Johnny Ace) that Ace had been playing with the gun, but not playing Russian roulette. According to Thornton, Ace pointed the gun at his girlfriend and another woman who were sitting nearby, but did not fire. He then pointed the gun toward himself. The gun went off, shooting him in the side of the head.
There has been speculation that Ace was murdered, but after reading the two eyewitness accounts of Tillman and Thornton, that seems impossible since neither mentions anyone else having a gun.
What we do know for sure is that Johnny Ace was born June 29, 1929 in Memphis, Tennessee and that he was born John Marshall Alexander, Jr. He later changed his name to Johnny Ace and appeared to be on his way to a successful recording career, when fate intervened and ended his life before his career could take off.
Johnny Ace singing Pledging My Love which became a posthumous No.1 hit.
Ironically, his biggest hit Pledging My Love was released after his death and was at the top of the Billboard R&B charts for ten weeks beginning on February 12, 1955.
56 years later the song is still being recorded and is one of the most recognizable songs among rhythm and blues fans.
Singer David Allan Coe sang Pledging My Love in concerts relating how he heard the news of his death. Elvis Presley recorded it during his last recording session in 1976 on his Moody Blue album.
The memory of Johnny Ace will live on as Pledging My Love will continue to be sung for years to come in concerts and on albums that have yet to be released.