A number of popular performers have come from the Port Neches and Port Arthur area. Singer Johnny Preston was born John Preston Courville, Jr. in Port Arthur, Texas on August 18, 1939 to John Preston Courville, Sr. and Margaret Schexnayder Courville. As a youth, he sang in high school choirs and around the state. Johnny attended Port Arthur College as he began his singing career. Using the stage name Johnny Preston, he formed a vocal group called The Shades and was appearing in a local club in Port Neches at the time he was noticed by club owner J. P. Richardson, who recorded under the name “The Big Bopper.” Richardson was a singer/songwriter and had written a teenage tragedy song (a somewhat popular genre at the time) called “Running Bear” that that tells the story of two Native American youths who drown in a swollen river as they attempted to get together. The tune was recorded in a Houston studio and became a hit record for the nineteen year old Preston in 1958. By the time of its release, Richardson had been tragically killed in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa in 1959 along with the aircraft’s pilot, singer Richie Valens and fellow Texan and singer Buddy Holly.
The song “Running Bear” had been recorded in Houston at Gold Star Records, which had begun as a recording studio for radio commercials and other recording projects. In addition to recording early rock and roll artists such as Richardson, it was also where pioneer country singer George Jones made some of his early recordings, along with singers Willie Nelson, Ray Price and others.
Preston’s recording became a number one hit on Mercury Records in the United States, kicking off his recording and performing career. He appeared on “American Bandstand” and other television shows. He had several other charted hits, and though he continued to record, his popularity eventually waned, as did that of many other artists of the era. He continued to perform in rock and roll and rockabilly venues and tours throughout the years.
He remained a resident of southeast Texas practically his whole life. In his later years, he is believed to have suffered from heart ailments and died on March 4, 2011 at the age of 71, survived by his wife and family. He was a member of Park Central Church of Christ where his services were held. Following his memorial service, he was interred in Oak Bluff Memorial Park in Port Neches, Jefferson County, Texas.
© 2021, all rights reserved.
One thought on “Johnny Preston, Entertainer”
Yes he is my cousin and I remember him as a little boy we would all my aunts uncles and cousins go to our grandmothers house after church for a big cajun dinner!Johnny would show up with his family and it was unbelievable time!My grand mothers had some oil wells in Louisiana and she shared her wealth with all of her family!She had the first color TV in Port Arthur!Never forget watching Johnny on American bandstand on that TV and also listen to him on radio singing his songs! That was the greatest time!Years later when I was all grown up I saw where he re released his songs on German label and I called him and said Johnny you were fabulous he told me was come down to Port Arthur at Lamar Tech were having a 50s rock concert!Well I was at San Antonio at my Chiropractic office and had condo at Padres Island and told him Ill come if you come down to Padres Island and go fishing with me!I didn’t realize it until I found out he was touring the world still mainly Australia and England they loved him over there!Well anyway went to concert and he was unbelievable even at his age he still had that great voice that was admired by the Beatles!They recorded Leave My Kitten Alone inspired by Johnny!Believe me he was a Super Star!He was so versatile they didn’t know how to handle him!He could sing anything any style!Once I heard he recorded the twist (listen to his version)his handlers said min you cant play that on radi. It will cause riots!So Chubby Checkers released it and we all know what it did for his career!In fact he told Johnny at a show man if you would of released that on radio they’re wouldn’t of been chubby checkers!Well Johnny the next days after concert in Port Arthur called he and said well Carl Edward what you think well you are great!!! Well he was going to come to Padres Island to go fishing with me and I couldn’t wait to walk through memory lane with regards to our families and his career!Well he had to go to Australia for concert tour and soon after he passed away!He may be gone but remember was no he is forever one of the best singers and entertainers that visited this planet! God Speed Johnny will see ya with rest of family on the other side!