Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Greatest Pop Stars Who Came To Singapore: Johnnie Ray: Part 1.

pix from:


Before rock and roll there was John Alvin Ray (1927-1990) American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Popular for most of the 50s and 60s, he was one of the major predecessors of the rockabilly craze, in fact, paving the way for Elvis' hyperactive movements on stage. 

Just as popular in Singapore, Johnnie Ray's records, some in the 78rpm format, sold very well on the island. Many local singers in the early 60s imitated Ray and Robert Song was one of them. It was well-known that Johnnie Ray was deaf because of an accident and had affected him emotionally but he was an attraction on stage and sang his songs with much fervor and feel. He had a movie role with Marilyn Monroe too [image below]. He died of liver failure in 1990.

Ray's song, Cry, with The Four Lads, (1951) made him famous as radios became a common household item in Singapore. Then came, All of Me (1952), Hernando's Hideaway, Alexander's Ragtime Band, As Time Goes By, (1954), Just Walkin' in the Rain (1956) - with a whistling introduction and accompaniment, Who's Sorry Now (1956) - more poignant than the Connie Francis version and Yes, Tonight Josephine (1957) - for me, his swan song.
Johnnie Ray in Concert.
YouTube Video by: John1948SevenC

These songs were hits in Singapore and Ray was just as famous in the UK and Australia. Such A Night, recorded in 1954, was also covered by Elvis Presley on his 1960 album, Elvis Is Back. Johnnie Ray was a singing idol in his days and, on a personal list, is placed above Frank Sinatra.

On May 15th, 16th, 17th, 1967 when he was 38 years old, he was in Singapore for a two night concert. He also visited the Singapore Association for the Deaf at Mountbatten Road. He was also interviewed by the press at Hotel Singapura.
Pix from Randy Lee [Stylers rhythmist: 4th left]
copyrights reserved.

There was even a Johnnie Ray of Singapore. Robert Song [image 3rd left], who used to work in one of the more prominent movie businesses here, sang like Ray, performing the popular evergreens on stage. He was accompanied by the famous Stylers and Checkmates during his later years, a unique combination indeed, considering that these bands were guitar groups. But like Song, the Stylers and Checkmates were versatile teams indeed.

Song also played well on percussion instruments like the conga, bongos and maracas, showing off his impeccable style that was the attraction those years, donned immaculately in bow tie and a dark suit. I guess they were tailored to fit, the band and Singapore's Johnnie Ray.
Before Elvis there was Johnnie Ray


Now, hopefully, some readers can understand why the word Influence is used in the title to this blog. We had so many influences before even today's influencers came on the scene. 

Johnnie Ray acted in this movie
with Marilyn Monroe. The other
stars were top guns those years.

Original article: by Andy Lim. 
Google Images.

Johnny Ray In Concert.
YouTube video: from Johnny Ray.
Best 40 minutes ever to know Johnnie
and his unique antics on stage as he sleeps on the piano
and cries and covers his head with his jacket.
Ray and Marilyn Monroe in the movie
Read the interesting chat with Irene Hoe, ex-journalist in Singapore when Johnnie Ray ordered food in a restaurant - Click Comments below:


ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

He was a star when Elvis was still a truck driver.
Tony Bennett called him, KING OF ROCK N ROLL - JOHNNY RAY.

I was in school too and love his CRY and WALKING MY BABY BACK HOME.


I love his “Cry” song very much.
When he performed in Singapore I was still schooling.
Johnnie Ray did his act in the Happy World Stadium in the late 50s.


An interesting article Andy.
Surprisingly I've listened to most of the hit songs you've mentioned, but didn't care to know who the singer was. Perhaps I was too young then.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Jimmmy.
You were too young definitely.
Perhaps you were focusing more on Tony Meehan and Brian Bennett; being a drummer yourself?

YEN CHOW said...

Hi Andy,
What's the first song title that Johnny sang in the second video clip?
Super, like that happy n quick song.
Not the first song, the song that he and the audience clapped hands to the rhythm.
11.45 minutes of the clip.

Found it ha, ha.
Yes, Tonight Josephine.


Apologies, I didn't comment earlier! Didn't have anything to contribute to your article! I only knew his JUST WALKING IN THE RAIN. Way before my time.


He came to my mum's restaurant for a meal. The other customers rushed to get his signature and my mom used a picture of my elder sister to ask for it. She had NO idea who he was. He signed it.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

1] Yen, thanks for your diligence to find out the song title. Yes, it's one of his more popular hits, like WALKING IN THE RAIN, so called originally sung by him and of course, YES, TONIGHT JOSEPHINE.

2] Thanks Irene [Yap] for the comment. You were definitely not around yet since you are still so young now.

3] Irene [Hoe], thanks.
That's a special comment indeed. What's the restaurant your mum had? Still around?

4] Also thanks to Stephen Han for your knowledge and ability because you have been to so many of these shows in Singapore.


When he did his act at the Happy World in the late 50s or 60s, I think LOLA DEE was with him.


His songs were not so popular.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes, that's true, as compared to Elvis Presley. Elvis would usually sing his own songs but RAY, COLE, SINATRA, MARTIN, etc. and those singers who sang during that period, shared the same songs, which became hits.

But JOHNNIE RAY had his own hits too, which sold well in the market.

Interesting, that unless you think about it, not many realise it. A very ideal example is the song WALKING MY BABY BACK HOME. It was so popular that the public became so familiar with it because almost all the top singers had recorded it; that includes DINO, RAY, COLE and a few others.

But JOHNNIE RAY had his own hits, special only to him.


I’m not a musicologist, but I can almost hear the transition of pop music culture in these songs. Modern music began in the 20s, according to “The People History” (, and transformed the big band sound of that era, which were mostly dance tunes backed by an orchestra most times; to a new format of basic 4/5 piece bands but with the introduction of electric guitars.

This heralded the new sound from the south into the scene, and with more advanced production techniques; pop music was evolutionalised and ‘modern’ singers like Johnnie Ray and mould-breaking personalities like Elvis Priestley and rock n’ roll were born. One can almost hear the impatience in Johnnie Ray’s singing - I might have imagined it though, but I can definitely hear Elvis joining in, twisting his hips and crooning/rocking his way into the music scene (this I definitely imagined 😅).

A truly defining moment in the history of American pop music. Question is: when is Singapore’s defining moment in the evolution of our own pop culture?

WEN HING said...

I have been listening to local music for the last 2 months or so. While most are passable “musicians” - I mean they’re definitely competent players and performancers, but the problem is that we don’t have our own sound. We are mostly carbon copies of American or UK pop. At least in the past the group Heritage tried to infuse Asian sounds in their compositions, although it didn’t work out too well. But none enough so call musicians here are trying to create our own cultural influenced styles. I guess it will take time.

FL said...

I have listened to some of the songs by Johnnie Ray during my teen, but couldn't recall the singer then. Hopeless me ! Andy, indeed I have learnt and appreciated many interesting write-ups in your blog.

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SPYEO said...

I got no response for your latest on JOHNNIE RAY. Think I was a young student at that time. At that time the contemporary music was rock n roll [Bill Haley], Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

The artistes you mentioned came just before Ray, perhaps a few years. Comparatively they were all more popular than him; that could be the reason why he was not so prominent as a singer.

Anonymous said...

Johnny Ray's probable last hit song was, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" in his inimitable style. In videos you see that 'Johnny Ray lip and mouth movement' which is the hallmark of Johnny's single style. Yes his Happy World concert wad a sell-out.