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Born in Brooklyn during the Great Depression, as a child he studied piano and grew up listening to R & B and Country music. In 1952 he won a local talent contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem that earned him a record deal with RCA and then with Jay-Dee where he recorded his first composition “Daddy Rolling Stone”, later popularized by the British band The Who. Recorded by Joe Davis, a veteran record producer who knew how to see his talent and recommended him to dedicate himself to composition, from 1955 he dedicated himself fully to write for all the major American record companies. It had its first big success in 1956 when Little Willie John recorded “Fever”. In 1958, the Peggy Lee version becomes an even bigger hit and the song is nominated for three Grammy Awards in the categories of best female vocal performance, best song of the year and best record of the year.
In 1956 he composed “Don’t Be Cruel”, initially offered to The Four Lovers, the group of Frankie Valli, although it was finally an emerging Elvis Presley who got the song, which was included as B-side of the single “Hound Dog.” Blackwell had to agree to share the authorship of the song with Elvis despite being the sole author of the song, due to the company’s interests, something that was quite common throughout his career. “Don`t Be Cruel” is considered by Rolling Stone magazine as the 197 of the 500 best songs of all time. The partnership with Elvis Presley continued with songs like “All Shook Up” in 1957, eight weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 or “Return to Sender” in 1962 among others.
In 1957 he writes for Jerry Lee Lewis the song “Great Ball of Fire” one of the most successful singles in history with more than a million copies sold only in the first ten days of its release. The song is considered by Rolling Stone magazine as the 96th best song of all time. Jerry Lee would repeat success in 1958 with “Breathless”.
In 1959, he picked two new hits “Hey Little Girl” played by Dee Clark and “Handy Man” initially recorded by Jimmy Jones but would lead to fame James Taylor in 1977. James Taylor would be awarded the Grammy Award at the best vocal performance by this recording.
In the 60s, when self-expression began to prevail in rock (groups and soloists who drew their own ideas), Blackwell moves to Nashville (Tennessee) where he composes Country music. There he died in 2002 of a heart failure, after more than a decade suffering from cerebral palsy. He is buried in the Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery of the Country’s capital.
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