Jesse Belvin

TrackSingle / Album
Dream Girl (Jesse And Marvin)Specialty SP-447-45
Hang Your Tears Out To DryRecorded in Hollywood 120-45
GoneSpecialty SP-559-45
My Desire (The Cliques)Modern 45x995
Goodnight My Love (Pleasant Dreams)Modern 45x1005
My SatelliteModern 45x1027
Just To Say HelloModern 45x1027
Guess WhoRCA-Victor 47-7469
Little DarlingKnight (Imperial) X2012
The Very Thought Of YouMr. Easy

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Jesse Belvin playlist


Contributor: Dave Stephens … with assistance from Cal Taylor

The other Jess(i)e albeit spelled differently. And, yes, this para is for those who’ve read the Young Jessie Topper but other readers will learn something. There were strong similarities between the two men: both were black, both were born in Texas but moved to L.A., both started out in doo wop groups, both were prolific at writing songs, both spent significant spells at Modern Records, both made their most memorable records in a broadly similar timeframe. But there were major differences too: Young J favoured up tempo music (particularly at Modern), JB was more varied and cut lounge standards at RCA, YJ had no hits while JB did, YJ lived to the age of 83 but JB died early (at just 27 years old) – in February 1960 from a car crash (see footnotes) – but paradoxically managed to cut a ridiculously large number of records in the relatively short amount of time he had.

He was born Jesse Lorenzo Belvin on 15th December 1932 in San Antonio, Texas but the family relocated to Northern California when he was four and then headed south to L.A. Like many black singers he gained his first vocal experience via the local Baptist Church encouraged by his mother. He won a talent contest arranged by Johnny Otis in 1948. His first recording session came in 1951 as lead singer of Three Dots & A Dash, a vocal group employed by orchestra leader – they loved the word ‘orchestra’ back then – and sax player, Big Jay McNeely. The record was All That Wine Is Gone / Don’t Cry Baby on the Imperial label and, from the deployment of skat from the vocalists, one could characterise them as an early doo wop group though the term hadn’t yet seen usage.

So far so good, but if you dig into the liner notes to Ace’s Goodnight My Love, you’ll find the statement: “Belvin’s first recording session took place in early 1951, either for Recorded In Hollywood or Imperial Records. The cuts he made solo for the former label, ‘Hang Your Tears Out To Dry’/’Dream Girl’ (120) and ‘Love Comes Tumbling Down’ (412) are undated. His earliest Imperial session took place at Radio Recorders in Hollywood in April, with saxophonist Big Jay McNeely’s orchestra.” I’d caution that the release date of Big Jay’s All That Wine Is Gone of February 1951 as reported in both 45Cat/78RPM and the Dik de Heer discography (see below) challenges the “April” session claim in said liner notes.

Add in to the above the fact that these liner notes have the Belvin birth as happening in Texarkana, TX, not San Antonio, though we’re told elsewhere (source: the liner notes to Ace album The Blues Balladeer) that the Texarkana location is incorrect by no less an authority than Jesse’s mum. Add in too, the recognised fact that Jesse had no qualms about recording for other labels (often as a member of sometimes temporary groups) whilst contracted to another and you get the impression that there’s little you can trust in terms of biographic and recording data re Jesse B. See the footnotes for confirmation that I wasn’t the first to come to this impression. Dik de Heer via his TIMS article on Jesse identifies the potential issue for discographies and puts forward one such which tries to “create some order in the confusion”.

We do know that he recorded for Specialty circa ’52 to ’53. He did his bit for the US Army (in West Germany) circa ’53 to ’54. When he got back to L.A. he signed a contract with Modern, initially as a member of the Cliques – a duo he formed with Eugene Church – and then as a solo artist. In ’54 he possibly – see footnotes – wrote the song Earth Angel for the Penguins. In 1958 he was signed up by RCA-Victor. And he cut loads and loads more records while all that was going on.

And it’s about time we heard some of those records.

Dream Girl – Jesse And Marvin – Specialty – November 1952 (dates from the Dik de Heer originated discography). There’s an essay on this record from Spontaneous Lunacy – The History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll- Song By Song. Words and phrases like “unpolished”, “slapdash feel” and “skeletal piano and drums” see usage and coalesce in “The thing to remember about Jesse Belvin is how much his lifestyle revolved around the simple act of singing with his pals”. Marvin Phillips was a longtime friend who had also been a member of Three Dots & A Dash. Marvin’s pitch might wander occasionally but that only serves to make the record more dreamlike. The black public loved it giving Jesse (and Marvin) a #2 hit in the nation’s R&B Chart.

Hang Your Tears Out To Dry – Jesse Belvin – Recorded in Hollywood – December 1952. Deserves to make the Ten on title alone but there’s more. It’s not a slow weepie as you might expect but a tough strutting affair coupling ancient & modern. Initially it comes across like a single chorder until you twig the good old twelve bar bluesy structure underneath. And remember “There ain’t no need to cry”.

Trouble And Misery – Jesse Belvin – Money Records – February 1955. Jesse didn’t cut many blues and certainly didn’t cut another one like this. Nor did anyone else. Remember those words about the looseness of Dream Girl? They’re just as applicable here but Jesse’s duetting with his own piano (plus that sax which often stalks Belvin vocals) rather than Marvin and he’s conjuring up agony rather than ecstasy.

One Little Blessing – Jesse Belvin (The Blues Balladeer) – Specialty – April 1955. Several fine doo wop ballads can be found within Jesse’s Specialty output, usually – like this one – based on that progression.

Gone – Jesse Belvin (The Blues Balladeer) – Specialty – April 1955. Flip the above and you’ll find another excellent doo wop ballad but with a blues theme (as implied by the title). How do those guys get so much enjoyment out of wallowing in all that misery?

Girl In My Dreams – The Cliques – Modern – March 1956. The lighter side of doo wop and the sort of thing that would be a model for teen pop as the 50s turned into the 60s (just remember that not all teen pop is disposable). Though it’s not as light as the title might imply: she won’t hear his plea so he’s sad and blue and can’t go on without her. There’s also a new component to Belvin records: Jesse harmonises with Eugene throughout most of the record rather than answering/alternating. And if it was intended to be a Dream Girl memory jog, it worked. Girl In My Dreams hit the #45 slot in the Hot 100. (And you’re not wrong, they do sing “girl OF my dreams”.)

I Wanna Know Why – The Cliques – Modern – March 1956. A chunky rocker with Jesse & Eugene playing the call and response game.

I’m In Love With A Girl – The Cliques – Modern – August 1956. A delightfully bouncy affair with the pair of them extemporising off each other more and more as it progresses. And we get the usual great sax solo. Fun. And why not.

My Desire – The Cliques – Modern – August 1956. The Belvin/Church duo show themselves to be as adept at ballads as at the frothier things. Though it has to be said that the bounce hasn’t entirely disappeared. Is there a term for harmonised melisma?

As an aside on this platter, and others from Modern, if you look them up in 45cat you’ll see names like “Josea” and “Ling” in the composer box. That does not necessarily mean that Jesse did not write such numbers; he actually wrote most of his material (apart from during his RCA phase) but was in the habit of selling the rights to such songs for cash. In addition, Josea and Ling were aliases for Joe and Saul Bihari respectively; the four Bihari brothers (inc. Jules and Lester) were the founders and managers of Modern Records. And the brothers’ pseudonyms could appear even in the absence of any sales of songs by Jesse.

I’d add that there’s a strong probability that the authorship of all, if not the bulk of the songs discussed so far, can be attributed solely to Jesse even though that’s not what most of the labels say.

Goodnight My Love (Pleasant Dreams) – Jesse Belvin – Modern – October 1956. His solo debut for Modern and the disc that most writers state was his biggest. However, at the time it only achieved a (still pleasing) #7 in the R&B Chart and that was it. Or, almost it. Alan Freed started using the track as the closer music for his highly popular radio show and, as a result, it became a standard. In the US that is, it didn’t even see release in the UK. The Wiki author lists 36 covers and that could be an understatement. Essential.

My Satellite – Jesse Belvin And His Space Raiders – Modern – December 1957. A rocker. What else could it be? And it’s one that you first dismiss as trivia but then you start taking on board all those things that are coming out of the Belvin vocal chords, not to mention that thundering rhythm section that keeps stoking the fire, and the realisation dawns that you’re listening to a rock’n’roll classic that not too many people have heard.

Just To Say Hello – Jesse Belvin – Modern – December 1957. And here’s a track that’s very different but maybe as good on the flip. Swingtime-cum-easy listening all delivered with a rock’n’roll-cum-doo wop sensibility.

I saw that the composers were listed as Spence and Gladstone on 45cat but was sufficiently curious to dig into the BMI database where the composers were listed as Belvin Jesse L and Josea J (and we’ve already learned the real name of that gent).

Guess Who – Jesse Belvin – RCA-Victor – February 1959. Written by Jesse’s wife, Jo Ann Belvin (with a bit of help from Jesse) which is probably why he’s singing his heart out. The song doesn’t overly appeal to me though there’s something to be said for its simplicity; Jesse is in full phonebook mode i.e. could sing absolutely anything and make it sound fantastic. Forgive my slight grouch: this works and he’s doing it for Jo Ann.

One has to listen to this record in the context of RCA managing Jesse’s output to a significant degree. This included toning back the ‘blackness’ of his vocals and arrangements, using non-Jesse songs the bulk of the time and extending the approach by moving him towards standards. The logic was evidently to follow the Nat “King” Cole path to stardom. It was a very similar stance the label (mistakenly) took slightly later with Sam Cooke after they’d signed him. Jesse’s Guess Who has to be welcomed as an alternate production to much of that.

The black public liked the record – #7 R&B Chart – and the additional achievement of #31 in the Hot 100 indicated that, at last, white buyers were really starting to take notice of Jesse. And the 30 plus covers logged by Secondhandsongs tells us that other artists (including B.B. King) were impressed too.

Little Darling – Jesse Belvin – Knight – 1959 (45cat says April 59). Chronologically (if one is to believe 45cat), this record followed Guess Who but who would believe they were from the same person? There’s a roughness/primitivity here (and on the flip, Deacon Dan Tucker) that doesn’t relate to the RCA records, nor indeed does it relate to other productions from his past – Trouble And Misery and the Jesse & Marvin Dream Girl were loose rather than rough. The clue is in the words “Cash Songs” which appear on the label as they do on a Cash single entitled Beware in 1957 and on another release of Beware on Tender in 1958 i.e. Knight/Cash are attempting to cash in on the success of Guess Who with rejects they have in the vaults. However, to me the sound has appeal: primitive R&B so up my street (and there’s a sleazy sax too). And if the guy Jesse’s duetting with is actually Eugene Church, as claimed by a YT commentator, so much the better.

The Very Thought Of You – Jesse Belvin – RCA-Victor – Mr Easy – 1960 (which was standards-packed and released posthumously). I’ve made no secret about the fact that I have mixed feelings about Jesse taking on lounge standards but from his own viewpoint of his potential career at the time, it was probably a sane move. AllMusic reviewer Bruce Eder gives the Mr Easy album 4.5 stars and comments:

“No, his voice wasn’t as rich as Sinatra or Cooke’s at either’s best, but he knew how to use it, and he went further with this material than anybody had a right to, straddling the worlds of soul and popular music magnificently. By itself, the closing number, “The Very Thought of You,” is worth the price of the disc, and isn’t much easier to listen to than Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” even if it is a very different kind of song.”

Well put Bruce. I’m certainly persuaded by this track if not every one of the rest.



“The most gifted of us all. Even now I consider him the greatest singer of my generation. Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, crooner, you name it, he was going to be bigger than Sam Cooke, bigger than Nat Cole.” (Etta James as quoted in

“There is one person (Jesse Belvin) that is my favorite of all-time. He did a song called ‘Guess Who.’ The late Jesse Belvin, was my favorite artist. I would almost die to meet him. I really loved the music he gave us. There is so much sincerity in his voice.” (Stevie Wonder from the same source as above)

“When I saw Sam Cooke and Jesse Belvin, I’d try to avoid my friends and family for days. I didn’t want to talk or be talked to cause I was busy practicing and memorizing everything I heard those singers do.” (Marvin Gaye from the same source as above)

“Jesse was a fantastic artist, a very, very handsome fellow and a wonderful person. He came to my house in Watts and we broke bread together. He was always writing songs, he could sit down and write a tune in five minutes.” (Big Jay McNeely from an interview contained in Bill Millar’s “Let The Good Times Rock”)




1. I’m not the only person to have realised that much of the information in the public domain about Jesse is just plain wrong. The appearance is that there’s no single source that’s got it all correct. In Episode 47: “Goodnight My Love” By Jesse Belvin in A History Of Rock Music In 500 Songs, the writer, Andrew Hickey, states:

“And when you do find something that actually talks about Belvin himself, you find wild inaccuracies. For example, in researching this episode, I found over and over again that people claimed that Barry White played piano on the song we’re looking at today, “Goodnight My Love”. Now, White lived in the same neighbourhood as Belvin, and they attended the same school, so on the face of it that seems plausible. It seems plausible, at least, until you realise that Barry White was eleven when “Goodnight My Love” came out.”

I should add that the age of Barry White hasn’t put at least one writer off still claiming that he was the pianist! I’d add that, according to the author of the Wiki article on Goodnight My Love, in an interview held in 1995, White denied that he was the pianist.

2. Jesse’s death (along with that of his wife and driver) was caused by a head-on collision with another car near Hope, Arkansas after they had left the first racially integrated concert to be held in Little Rock, Arkansas at which Jesse had performed. The crash occurred on 6th February 1960. The Wiki author states: “Police suspected Belvin’s car was tampered with” and, in addition, Jackie Wilson, another performer on the show, is known to have turned back with a suspicion of car problems after starting his journey to Dallas, the next location for the touring show. Wiki further states: “Jackie Wilson told the press that he had requested his lawyer look into the matter, but no official determination was ever made.” A lot more has been written on the subject but set against all of that is the tendency for wild stories to circulate about Jesse – see above.

After I wrote the last paragraph, Cal managed to find a very interesting piece on the Belvin death contained within a blog written by a Jackie Wilson fan whose online identifier is jackiewilsonlover. The writer takes issue with the theme that is common to many of the stories of the death, that is, that the causation was racial. (While I had not explicitly stated that in my para I am conscious that the reader is likely to have drawn that conclusion). Jackiewilsonlover puts forward several credible arguments regarding claims put forward to support this thesis, e.g. that there’s no evidence at all that Jesse had received death threats a week before the show took place. However, rather than attempt to summarise a very long multi-part article I would urge the reader to dip into it before drawing what could be an uncorroborated conclusion. There is, in addition, contrary evidence that the crash could have been caused by driver error. There was a report in the press that police at the scene had said that Jesse’s car was in the wrong lane when the crash occurred. The Episode 47 article referred to in Footnote #1 states “Belvin’s driver, Charles Shackleford, had got the job with Belvin after being fired by Ray Charles. He was fired, according to Charles, because he kept staying awake watching the late-night shows, not getting enough sleep, and driving dangerously enough to scare Ray Charles.”

3. Saxophonist and band leader, Cecil James “Big Jay” McNeely was born in L.A. in 1927 and died in 2018. He made his first recordings via Johnny Otis “who ran the Barrelhouse Club that stood only a few blocks from McNeely’s home” (source: Wiki). He had his first hit with the instrumental The Deacon’s Hop in 1949. His biggest hit came with early soul blues There Is Something On Your Mind with vocal from Little Sonny Warner in 1959. The Wiki author also states: “McNeely was credited with being the most flamboyant performer out of the saxophone honkers.”

4. The Penguins’ Earth Angel is regarded as a classic of the doo wop genre and I would direct the reader to the long and informative article on the song in Wiki. Key sentences come near the start: “The Penguins – composed of lead vocalist Cleveland Duncan, bass Curtis Williams, tenor Dexter Tisby, and baritone Bruce Tate – formed at Fremont High School in Los Angeles, California in 1953” and “Williams and Gaynel Hodge were previously members of The Hollywood Flames, where they began writing ‘Earth Angel’ with mentor Jesse Belvin, a Jefferson High graduate”. The record hit the top of the R&B Chart. White Canadian group, the Crew-Cuts, did even better with the song, hitting the #3 position in the Hot 100 (and the flip to the record was their version of Ko Ko Mo, see footnote #9).

There were legal battles with Penguins’ producer Dootsie Williams about the song’s ownership. BMI have it now as Curtis Williams, Gaynel Hodge and Jesse Belvin.

5. Eugene Church, another émigré to L.A. (from St. Louis), continued to work with Jesse on and off and had a solo career from the late 50s up to the mid 60s. He hit the #6 spot in the R&B Chart in 1958 with Pretty Girls Everywhere (with Jesse as one of the backing voices acc. to Dik de Heer). He then moved to gospel music returning to his secular style on the retro circuit in the 90s.

6. The album Goodnight My Love (Ace UK) which covers the Modern period and The Unforgettable Mr Easy (Jasmine) which has both the Just Jesse Belvin and Mr Easy RCA LPs plus 26 (non-RCA) singles tracks are both currently available and they are on Spotify. Ace have other albums available covering both the Specialty period and the tracks made for Recorded in Hollywood but they’re not on Spotify. However, Spotify does have (on MP3 only) Jesse Belvin: The Singles Volume 1 (and Volume 2) which are worth investigating.

7. Modern were determined to jump on the bandwagon that was Sam Cooke’s You Send Me judging by the way they put out a version from Jesse in no time flat, using a very similar arrangement. Neither the label nor Jesse were rewarded in terms of significant sales. To be fair though, was anyone going to beat Sam? On his own song? Strangely, Modern also took the Jesse flip, Summertime, from the Cooke flip though for this number the arrangements differed so much that the phrase ‘chalk and cheese’ comes to mind.

8. There were a couple more covers/versions from Jesse at RCA. One suspects that his take on Volare, his debut for the label, got lost in the rush of covers of Domenico Modugno’s monster hit – there were 20 in 1958 alone according to Secondhandsongs and the site maintainer doesn’t seem to have noticed the Belvin platter. The other version, of Pledging My Love, came nearly four years after the Johnny Ace original so doesn’t really qualify as a cover. Jesse delivers the song well – technically his voice was better than Johnny’s – but the disc doesn’t have the atmosphere of the Ace disc with the Johnny Otis vibes and that ethereal sax – see the Johnny Ace Topper from Cal & self.

9. Marvin Phillips exhumed the Jesse & Marvin concept a few years later under a new name, Marvin & Johnny – Marvin played himself but the Johnny slot was filled by a number of gentlemen (in turn, not all at once, of course). Jesse was him for a short spell and discs included Ko Ko Mo.

10. Another of Jesse’s extracurricular activities is well worth a mention. The record was You Cheated from the Shields, released on the Dot label in 1958. The Dik de Heer discography states: “The Shields was a studio group: Frankie Ervin sang lead, Mel Williams and Buster Williams sang background tenor, Johnny Watson sang bass, and Belvin supplied the song’s distinctive falsetto-tenor. Dot Records picked the record up from George Motola’s tiny Tender label and made it a #13 pop hit.”

Take a listen to that falsetto – Jesse’s vocal versatility was boundless.

11. I made no comment in the main text about the writer(s) of Goodbye My Love (Pleasant Dreams) so the reader is likely to have assumed that it wasn’t Jesse. The appearance is that you’d be correct; BMI attributes the song without the bracketed portion to John S. Marascalco and George Motola. However, Andrew Hickey, the author of the article I made reference to in Footnote #1, states:

“Motola had written the bulk of the song several years earlier, but had never completed it. He brought it into the studio, and Jesse Belvin came up with the bridge – but he said that rather than take credit, he just wanted Motola to give him four hundred dollars. Motola didn’t have four hundred dollars on him, but Marascalco, who was also at the session and is the credited producer, said he could get it for Belvin, and took the credit himself.”

Hickey goes on to add the proverbial pinch of salt by referring to his own remarks on the tales that have always circulated around Jesse, so, who knows?

12. Bonus tracks! I have a couple that didn’t get listed in the Ten plus also-rans. Both are of the sort that get included in albums aimed at the completist. I was sorely tempted to find room for either or even both in the Ten.

Firstly, What Can I Do Without You, a Modern outtake positioned near the end of Goodnight My Love. Could be viewed as a lounge ballad with potential to become a standard, or early soul, but with Jesse being sparing on the gospel touches. Would have been cut in ’58 at the latest before soul ballads really existed. I don’t care how you classify it but it should have been released at the time. I said minimal gospel but listen to JB’s “Without your love I-I-I can’t go on” when the band stops at 1:20.

And secondly, I’m Confessin’, a version of which appears near the end of Jesse Belvin: The Singles Volume 2. This was from Class Records (Class 267), a single which saw release in 1960 posthumously: this was the A-side title. What’s fascinating about the ‘Volume 2’ track is that Jesse is unplugged as we say these days i.e. it’s just him and his piano. Some of the YT clips of the track are like this, others have an added backing (which is probably how the disc actually sounded). However, the opportunity to hear Jesse solo was just too good to miss.

And I love it! Both are Jesse-written songs.

Of course.

13. Cal managed to find the one live clip of Jesse on YT (yes, I know there’s another but it’s just the first shortened). He sings What Is Love (aka Give Me Love, another one of his RCA singles but released by Johnny “Guitar” Watson decades later under the What Is Love title) and Guess Who. I’d warn that there’s a gap of 15 to 20 seconds between the songs and a further gap at the end. The YT uploader, Jesse Belvin Jr. provides a big fat zero in terms of the dating/source of the clip – and given the gap, there could be two different sources. The de Heer discography lists the clip, but also says nothing about its sourcing though it does say “Jesse Belvin appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on April 21, 1958, singing “Guess Who?” The availability of a film or audio of the appearance is presently unknown.” Whether that appearance and the clip relate, who knows, but here it is. Treasure it.



Jesse Belvin Discography

Jesse Belvin at Ace Records UK

Jesse Belvin biography (AllMusic)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Cal Taylor has avidly collected records since the early 1960s, gravitating to deep soul and blues. As time went on he got more and more into studying pre-war blues and accumulated a vast record collection. Cal saw many such artists live in the sixties. He has written several posts for this site including Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson and Otis Redding.

The Stephens/Taylor toppermosts include Johnny Ace, Arthur Alexander, Ray Charles, Cyril Davies, The Falcons, Guitar Slim, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Elmore James, Alexis Korner, Little Walter, Johnny Otis, Junior Parker.

TopperPost #1,104

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Shields
    Feb 27, 2024

    Dave and Cal – thanks for this superb piece. Jesse had such a fabulous voice and was such a versatile artist – hard to know what direction he might have taken if he had lived longer. Remember once seeing a clip of B.B. King singing ‘Guess Who’ at some kind of celebration for Bobby Bland.

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