Today in KC’s Music History: Joe Turner Born

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Big Joe Turner

Happy Birthday to KC legend Big Joe Turner, who was born 100 years ago today.

Born in Kansas City, Turner started singing on the streets and in church. In his early teens, he began singing in clubs and became known as the Singing Barman.

In the late 1930s, talent scout and producer John Hammond discovered Turner during a trip to Kansas City. Turner performed in Hammond’s From Spirituals to Swing concerts, from which he first gained national attention.

Although he regularly performed and recorded in the 1940s, Turner’s career had stalled some by the 1950s. He signed to a new label, the now-legendary Atlantic Records, which transformed his career.

In 1954, Turner recorded Shake, Rattle and Roll, written by Jesse Stone, also was a product of the KC scene. This legendary recording is one of the foundations of rock ‘n’ roll. According to Doc Pomus, an early rock ‘n’ roll songwriter (Save the Last Dance for Me and Little Sister, just two of many classics), “rock ‘n’ roll would have never happened” without Turner.

Turner had a string of 20 top R&B hits into the late 1950s. When this ended, he returned to singing jazz and blues in small combos. He performed and recorded regularly until his death in 1985.

Turner has been inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is just one of two Kansas City performers inducted into the rock hall (the other being Gene Clark for his work in the Byrds).

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