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Hank Ballard & The Midnighters

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A crucial link between rhythm-and-blues and early rock & roll during the 1950s, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ songs may have been rooted in the high-energy spirituals of gospel, but looked to far earthier inspirations for most of their subject matter. While Ballard’s lascivious lyrics and hard-charging doo-wop style were considered too risqué for mainstream radio, songs like “Work with Me Annie” and “Sexy Ways” made them darlings of the so-called “chitlin’ circuit” (entertainment venues that attracted largely African American audiences). In 1960, Chubby Checker’s cover version of a Ballard b-side, “The Twist,” catapulted to Number One on the pop charts, bringing renewed interest in the Midnighters for a time. But the acclaim was short-lived, and the group disbanded in 1965. In coming decades, Ballard tried launching a solo career and new lineups of the Midnighters to little success, eventually succumbing to throat cancer in 2003.

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