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Hank Ballard


July 17, 2022

Hank Ballard (born John Henry Kendricks; November 18, 1927 – March 2, 2003) was an American singer and songwriter, the lead vocalist of The Midnighters and one of the first rock and roll artists to emerge in the early 1950s. He played an integral part in the development of the genre, releasing the hit singles "Work With Me, Annie" and answer songs "Annie Had a Baby" and "Annie's Aunt Fannie" with his Midnighters. He later wrote and originally recorded (in 1959) "The Twist" which was notably covered a year later by Chubby Checker, this second version spreading the popularity of the dance.[2] He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Early years

Born John Henry Kendricks in Detroit, Michigan, he and his brother, Dove Ballard, grew up and attended school in Bessemer, Alabama, after the death of their father.[citation needed] He lived with his paternal aunt and her husband, and began singing in church. His major vocal inspiration during his formative years was the "Singing Cowboy", Gene Autry, and in particular, his signature song, "Back in the Saddle Again".[3] Ballard returned to Detroit in his teens and later worked on the assembly line for Ford.

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

In 1953, Ballard joined doo-wop group the Royals, which had previously been discovered by Johnny Otis and signed to Federal Records (a division of King Records), in Cincinnati. Ballard joined Henry Booth, Charles Sutton, Sonny Woods and Alonzo Tucker in the group, replacing previous singer Lawson Smith.

The Royals released "Get It" (1953), an R&B song with possibly sexually oriented lyrics, which some radio stations refused to play, although it still made it to number 6 on the Billboard R&B chart.

The group then changed its name to the Midnighters to avoid confusion with the "5" Royales.[5] In 1954, Ballard wrote a song called "Work with Me, Annie" that was drawn from "Get It". It became the Midnighters' first major R&B hit, spending seven weeks at number 1 on the R&B charts and also selling well in mainstream markets, along with the answer songs "Annie Had a Baby" and "Annie's Aunt Fannie"; all were banned by the FCC from radio air play. Their third major hit was "Sexy Ways", a song that cemented the band's reputation as one of the most risqué groups of the time.

They had four other R&B chart hits in 1954–55, but no others until 1959, by which time the group was billed as "Hank Ballard and The Midnighters" with their label changed from Federal to King, the parent label. Between 1959 and 1961 they had several more both on the R&B and Pop charts, starting with "Teardrops on Your Letter", a number 4 R&B hit in 1959 that had as its B-side the Ballard-written song "The Twist". A few months later, Chubby Checker's cover version of the song went to number 1 on the pop charts. It would return to the top of the charts again in 1962 – the only song in the rock and roll era to reach number 1 in two different non-consecutive years.

Ballard and the Midnighters had several other hit singles in 1962, including the Grammy-nominated "Finger Poppin' Time" (1960) and "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" (1960) which hit number 7 and number 6, respectively, on the Billboard pop charts. They did not reach the charts again after 1962 and dissolved in 1965.

Later career

After the Midnighters disbanded, Ballard launched a solo career. His 1968 single, "How You Gonna Get Respect (When You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet)", was his biggest post-Midnighters hit, peaking at number 15 on the R&B chart. James Brown produced Ballard's 1969 album You Can't Keep a Good Man Down. A 1972 single, "From the Love Side", credited to Hank Ballard and the Midnight Lighters, went to number 43 on the R&B chart. Ballard also appeared on Brown's 1972 album Get on the Good Foot, on two tracks, "Recitation By Hank Ballard", that features Ballard describing Brown and the album, and “Funky Side of Town”, in duet, with James Brown.

One-off sides, “Sunday Morning , Coming Down “, and “I’m a junkie for my Baby’s Love “, followed in the ‘70s. He had some dancers out in the mid-‘70s, like “Hey There Sexy Lady “ and “Let’s Go Streaking “ (recorded by Hank in the nude). A beat ballad was also released, “Love On Love”.

In 1979, he had moderate success with the disco number, “Freak Your Boom-Boom“.

During the 1960s, Ballard's cousin, Florence Ballard, was a member of the Detroit girl group the Supremes. In the mid-1980s, Ballard re-formed The Midnighters and the group performed until 2002.


On March 2, 2003, he died at age 75 of throat cancer in his Los Angeles home. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia.


In 1990, Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; the other Midnighters were inducted in 2012.

In 2010, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters were voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.

Ballard was the great uncle of NFL player Christian Ballard.

Work with Me, Annie

"Work with Me, Annie" is a 12-bar blues song with words and music by Hank Ballard. It was recorded by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters (formerly The Royals) in Cincinnati on the Federal Records label on January 14, 1954, and released the following month. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) immediately opposed it due to its overtly sexual lyrics, lyrics that had crossed over and were now being listened to by a white teenage audience. Because the record was in such demand and received so much publicity, attempts to restrict it failed and the record shot to number one on the R&B charts and remained there for seven weeks.

This was the first of the "Annie" records and sold a million copies; so did the answer songs "Annie Had a Baby" and "Annie's Aunt Fannie." They all were banned for radio play by the FCC. The success of these recordings spurred the practice of recording double entendre records and answer songs. Another answer, "The Wallflower", by Etta James, popularly known as "Roll with Me, Henry", was reworded by Georgia Gibbs as "Dance with Me, Henry" for Top 40 consumption. It had the same melody as "Work with Me, Annie". The melody was recycled again by the Midnighters for the song "Henry's Got Flat Feet (Can't Dance No More)".

The song "Work with Me, Annie" is part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll" list.

The song

Hank Ballard had been a fan of "Sixty Minute Man" recorded by The Dominoes, a song so explicitly sexual that only a rhythm and blues label would take it. When he got the chance he wrote his own bawdy tune. With its strong melody and distinctive rhythm, the song's structure anticipated the style of rock and roll and was flexible enough that later it could be used with entirely different words. The "Annie" lyrics were extremely sexually explicit for the period:

"Annie, please don't cheat. Give me all my meat."

And the punchline:

"Let's get it while the getting is good."

Hank Ballard's baritone and excited squeals backed by the group's 'ah-oom' were accompanied by a boogie piano, a driving electric guitar and a booming electric bass. "Work With Me, Annie" defined what was to become Rock 'n' Roll.

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