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HUNTER, IVORY JOE

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HUNTER, IVORY JOE (1914–1974). Singer, songwriter, and pianist Ivory Joe Hunter was born in Kirbyville, Texas, in Jasper County, on October 10, 1914. He was the son of a gospel-singing mother and a guitar-playing father, Dave Hunter. Ivory Joe Hunter took up piano as a child and by his teen years was playing gigs across Southeast Texas. After the deaths of his parents when he was thirteen, Hunter went to live with relatives in Port Arthur, where he graduated from Lincoln High School. He then traveled the United States as a touring musician. He made his first recording, for the Library of Congress, under the pseudonym Ivory Joe White in 1933. Subsequently he began hosting his own radio show on KFDM in Beaumont, where he later became program manager.

In 1942 Hunter moved to California. He soon started his own label, Ivory Records, in Oakland and produced his first commercial hit, "Blues at Sunrise." Shortly afterwards this label went out of business, but Hunter helped start another label known as Pacific Records. He recorded for many labels during his long career, including 4 Star, Excelsior, and King, before finding his professional home with MGM in 1949. During the 1950s he produced a number of hits, such as "I Almost Lost My Mind" and "I Need You So" (1950) on the MGM label; and "Since I Lost My Baby" (1956), "Empty Arms" and its flip side "Love's a Hurting Game" (1957), and "Yes I Want You" (1958) on the Atlantic label. After 1958 his career began to decline. He tried to keep his momentum going, however, by recording with several different labels, such as Dot, Vee-Jay, Capitol, Smash, Paramount, Strand, and Veep.

In the 1960s, with the waning popularity of rhythm and blues, Hunter ventured into country music––a move foreshadowed by the fact that he had been using elements of this type of music for years. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he performed at a variety of venues, including the Grand Ole Opry. Sonny James had a hit with Hunter’s song “Since I Met You Baby” in 1969. In 1970 Hunter attempted a comeback on the Epic label with a record entitled The Return of Ivory Joe Hunter. Around this time he also performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. His prolific songwriting over the course of his lifetime (some sources report that he wrote more than 7,000 songs) resulted in tunes that brought hits for a number of performers, including Pat Boone and Elvis Presley.

Hunter's declining health brought mounting medical bills which eventually drained his financial resources. He died of lung cancer in Memphis, Tennessee, on November 8, 1974. He was buried in Kirbyville, Texas. His reputation rests not only on his impressive string of hit records, but also on his influence, which extended to such important artists as Isaac Hayes and Ray Charles. A Texas Historical Marker honoring Ivory Joe Hunter was erected just south of the community of Magnolia Springs in Jasper County in 2009. He is also honored as a music legend in the Museum of the Gulf Coast’s Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Michael Erlewine et al., eds., AMG All Music Guide to the Blues: The Experts' Guide to the Best Blues Recordings (San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 1996; 2d ed., San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 1999). Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Ivory Joe Hunter (http://www.tsimon.com/hunter.htm), accessed October 19, 2011. Robert Santelli, Big Book of Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia (New York: Penguin Books, 1993).

Jarad Brown

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Jarad Brown, "HUNTER, IVORY JOE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhu89), accessed July 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on September 12, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.