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    Jarrett, Hugh (11 October 1929 – 31 May 2008)

    Actor, bass 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 promotion. 


    Meantime, he 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. 


    On 15th 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 You. 


    Elvis insisted 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.) 


    The FCC 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.



    1. http://www.jordanaires.net/History/complete.htm
    2. http://www.bandhistory.com/profiles/bighughbaby.htm
    3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/hugh-jarrett-bass-singer-with-the-jordanaires-839560.html
    4. http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/obits/stories/2008/06/02/hugh_jarrett_obit_0603.html
    5. http://www.bluepower.com/2008/06/hugh-jarrettlast-of-great-wlac-djs-gone.html
    6. http://www.wwev.org/Hugh.html
    7. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0418939/
    8. http://www.cinemablend.com/celebrity/Elvis-Band-Mate-Hugh-Jarrett-Dead-At-78-10707.html











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