Ivory Joe Hunter

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Ivory Joe Hunter, 63, who wrote between 2,000 and 3,000 country, blues and popular songs, died Friday of lung cancer in a Memphis, hospital. Among his best-known numbers are “My Wish Came True,” “I Need You So,” “Ain’t That Lovin’ You, Baby,” “and “I Almost Lost My Mind.” – The Kane Republican (Kane, Pennsylvania) Sat. Nov 9, 1974.

Ivory Joe Hunter was born to a musical family in 1914 (some accounts say 1911) in Kirbyville, south of Jasper, Texas. There is not much between Kirbyville and the Texas-Louisiana border other than farm land and woods. His father Dave Hunter was a guitar player and laborer and his mother Anna Smith Hunter was a gospel singer and a housewife. In the 1920 federal census, Ivory Joe was one of twelve children. Both of his parents seem to have died while he was young. By the 1930 census, Ivory Joe was living with an older sister Georgia and her family, along with several more of the Hunter siblings in the Port Arthur area where he attended school. Some accounts say that Ivory was a nickname, but as far back as the 1920 census, he was listed with the name Ivory Joe Hunter and his name was given to him by his mother.

As a youth, he was known as a singer and keyboard player. He sang in the choir at the nearby Albert Church and though his early years, also in grade school through high school. Though the exact details of how they met are unknown, at age 16, Ivory Joe was recorded for the Library of Congress by music archivist Alan Lomax.

Ivory Joe played and sang in clubs in the Golden Triangle area of Texas (Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange) during his 20s and had begun to write his own songs, mostly in the blues genre. Within about ten years, he had started his first record label, Ivory Records, in California. This label apparently did not last too long, and shortly afterward, he and others formed Pacific Records.

He composed thousands of songs, many of which were hits. Some estimates list the number as being in excess of 7,000, more than twice the number mentioned in the above death notice. His personal discography is extensive. Not only did he record his own music, his compositions were covered by other performers, many of whom were nationally known. He also recorded music of other artists and song writers. One of his most covered hits was “I Almost Lost My Mind” which he recorded in 1949. It was a big seller and within about a year it had sold an estimated one million copies in the rhythm and blues genre. Since that time, it has been recorded by others around 100 times by artists including Lionel Hampton, Nat “King” Cole, Pat Boone, Hank Snow, Connie Frances, Bill Haley and His Comets, Chubby Checker, Leroy Van Dyke, Patty Page, Ray Anthony, Conway Twitty, The Everly Brothers, Ferlin Husky, Albert King, Charlie Rich, Hank Williams Jr., Fats Domino and many others. This one song has been recorded almost continuously in the seventy years following its release.

Image credit: discogs.com

​Ivory Joe was a headliner for many years until his touring career seemed to decline somewhat in the 1950s. He did not slow down, and his songs continued to reach the national charts, with “I Almost Lost My Mind” edging him into the pop music arena. He continued to perform as a keyboard player, singer and band leader. Another of his songs, “Since I Met You, Baby” was a top ten popular chart hit, earning him a gold record which was presented to him on the Ed Sullivan Show. He recorded for several different labels, including 4 Star, Excelsior, King, MGM, Atlantic, Dot, Vee-Jay, Capitol, Smash, Paramount, Strand, and Veep..

In the 1960s, his songs had gained a foothold in the country and western genre and he made a number of appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. His songs were being recorded by country artists and he recorded albums of other artist’s songs, one of which was an LP of Hank Williams tunes. His health began to fail as he reached his 60s and he developed lung cancer, from which he died in 1974. He was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Magnolia Springs, Texas.

In addition to being honored by such diverse organizations as the Monterrey Jazz Festival and the Grand Ole Opry, Hunter’s honors include being named BMI Songwriter of the year, having a Texas Historical Marker installed in Magnolia Springs, being the subject of a resolution by the Texas Legislature for his representation of Texas by means of his music. He has also been inducted into Port Arthur’s Museum of the Gulf Coast Hall of Fame.

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