singer and disc jockey from Nashville, Tennessee, who started out singing
in various barber-shop quartets while he was still in his teens. He gravitated toward radio and landed
a gig at a station in Greeneville, South Carolina. It was short-lived, and he returned
to Tennessee where he worked on WKDA in Nashville and WHIN in
Gallatin. Here he started what
would become a Hugh Jarrett tradition, a series of record hops, designed to
whip the kids into a frenzy and do a little retail
continued to moonlight as a singer with a variety of ensembles in Music
City. In 1954, he caught a big
break when The Jordanaires hired him to replace Culley Holt.
The Jordanaires were already a big deal at
the time, and he jumped at the opportunity. It was around this time they were
backing Eddy Arnold on stage and television. At a concert in Memphis, Elvis
Presley approached the group and told them that if he ever managed to ink a
big-time record deal, he wanted them to be his backing singers.
and 16th March, 1956, they did just that, performing a six-show
run at Atlanta’s Fox Theater.
Hugh, who was known as a cut-up, did the emceeing chores, a role he
would relish throughout his tenure with the group. They returned to Atlanta in June to
do a series of shows at the Paramount Theater. In the studio, they backed him up on
many of his biggest hits, including “All Shook Up”,
“Don’t Be Cruel”, “Hound Dog”, and “Jailhouse
Rock”. Then there was a
series of (in)famous television appearances: The
Steve Allen Show; The Milton Berle Show; and, most notably, The Ed Sullivan Show, on which the scrupulous host would only
allow Elvis to be shown from the waist up. In 1957, they appeared with him in
the thinly disguised biopic, Loving
that the name “The Jordanaires”
emblazon the record labels, a rare and generous gesture that totally went
against the grain. Back-up
musicians, singers, and production people were rarely if ever even
mentioned on album covers at the time.
The first side to bear their name was 1957’s “Too
Much”. The Jordanaires’ deal with Elvis was not
exclusive: He allowed them to
record with other artists as long as they were available when he needed
them; Hence, they accompanied acts such as Ferlin
Husky, Ricky Nelson, and Marty Robbins, on one of his biggest hits,
“A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation)”.
In 1958, Hugh
left the group and was supplanted by Ray Walker. His last recording as a Jordanaire was Elvis’s raucous rocker,
“Wear My Ring Around Your Neck”. Then he co-founded The Statues with
Buzz Cason and Richard Williams.
They scored a hit record with “Blue Velvet” on the
Liberty label. He also got back
into radio, and in a big way.
In 1960, he
replaced Bill Allen on WLAC, one of the biggest stations in the area, and
became one quarter of the esteemed Big Four, a cadre of brassy,
take-no-prisoners, night-time DJs.
Their ranks included Gene Nobles, Henry Grizzard
and John Richbourg, who billed himself as John
R. It was here he resurrected
his popular record hops, promoting records by the likes of Bo Diddley, Connie Francis, Ben E. King, and Jerry
Reed. He got himself in trouble
one night for a comment he made during a live commercial for White Rose
Petroleum Jelly. (We’ll
let you fill in the blanks.)
temporarily suspended his broadcast license, and it seemed like a good time
to leave town. Hugh moved to
Atlanta and worked for a handful of stations, including WFOM, WPLO, and
WSB. He also did some
television work, anchoring channel 36’s financial news and hosting
the WXIA morning show, Rise and Shine.
Then he moved
to Burbank, California, where he worked for L.A.’s biggest country
music radio station, KBBQ. He
was there for three years and in that time managed to emcee country shows
at The Palamino and start his own vocal group,
The Hugh Jarrett Singers. In
1970, when Elvis took his act on the road to Las Vegas, The Jordanaires decided to stay behind, as they were
lapping up the studio work in Nashville. Elvis hired The Hugh Jarrett Singers
to back him up on his shows in Sin City.
In the 1980s,
Hugh caught the acting bug and did a number of appearances on film,
including the made-for-TV movie, Murder
in Coweta County, with Johnny Cash. Then he personified Lamar Maddox in
the television mini-series, Chiefs. In 1985, he hit the big screen as
Arthur in The Annihilators, also
known as Action Force. He split his time between TV and
film in 1986, appearing as Oster in the TV movie,
Resting Place, and Jack in the
theatrical release, What Comes Around. In 1989, he played John Sinclaire in the “Sister Sister”
episode of In the Heat of the Night. His last acting credit appears to be
1992’s The Nightman,
in which he played the role of Mr. Peabody.
In 1997, he
reunited with The Jordanaires for an Elvis
tribute concert, commemorating the twentieth anniversary of his death. He was enshrined in the Gospel Music
Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2006, he was working for a
Christian radio station and continued to host a weekly Sunday morning
gospel show until his death on 31st May 2008. He died from injuries sustained in a
terrible automobile accident.
Tragically, his grandson had just died in a car crash. On a sorrowful morning for the
Jarrett family, they said their goodbyes at Northside
Chapel in Roswell, Georgia.
Hugh had a
bass voice that could get into your gut, and it continues to resonate on
vinyl and in CD form after his death.
Pick up any of Elvis’s old records, dust them off, put the
needle down, and remember just how much Hugh added to The Jordanaires’ sound.