WUMB December Program Guide

Goodness Gracious, Otis Blackwell!

February is Black History month in the US, and while every month is Black History month in my book, we on the Morning Show will pay particular attention to several artists and their significant  contributions to American (and global) culture throughout the month.

One of these artists is songwriter and performer Otis Blackwell. Born in Brooklyn in 1931, Blackwell was a product of the Apollo Theater “Amateur Night” talent shows of the early 1950’s, eventually earning a recording contract with RCA. He was not a household name by any stretch but his songs surely are. While he never achieved fame as a recording artist he wrote many iconic hits for Elvis PresleyPeggy Lee, and Jerry Lee Lewis: “Fever”, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Breathless”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “All Shook Up”, and “Return to Sender”. These songs alone garnered over $200 million in record sales, much of which Blackwell never saw. Unfair business practices of the era forced him to write under various pseudonyms to skirt publishing contracts in an effort to earn more money for his work.

When the 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll era began to ebb in favor of the British invasion and psychedelia of the 60’s, Blackwell entered semi-retirement. He continued to record and perform sporadically throughout the rest of life, even making two albums in the 1980’s with the rock band The Smithereens. Otis Blackwell was a hugely important figure in the development of rhythm and blues – and by extension, American – music during the 20th century, and yet few people recognize his name. We all know Leiber and Stoller, Chuck Berry, and even Willie Dixon. So let us remember Otis Blackwell during Black History month on WUMB.

~ Brendan

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