Hank Ballard earned distinction as a rock pioneer by laying sexually explicit lyrics over raw gospel-derived rhythms. With his backup group the Midnighters, he recorded several successful sides for the King label in the early 1950s. In his best year, 1954, he had three R&B Top 10 hits with the "Annie" trilogy —"Work With Me, Annie," "Annie Had a Baby," and "Annie's Aunt Fanny" —each of which sold over a million copies internationally despite being widely banned from the airwaves. They made Ballard a top draw on the R&B circuit, although he did not have another major hit until "Teardrops on My Letter" in 1958.
While recording "Teardrops," he quickly composed a B-side novelty dance tune called "The Twist." In 1960 Chubby Checker's slicker version became one of early rock's best-selling singles. Ballard and the Midnighters had two hits in 1960, "Finger Poppin' Time" (#7) and "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" (#6). In 1963 he embarked on a solo career. By then his fortunes had waned, and he returned to playing soul clubs. Befitting a man whose biggest successes were risqué records, Ballard tried to promote his 1974 song "Let's Go Streaking" by recording it in the nude. Ballard, who continued to perform in clubs well into the '90s, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, three months after his wife and manager, Theresa McNeil, was killed in a hit-and-run accident. He released an album of new material in 1998. Five years later, Hank Ballard succumbed to throat cancer on March 2, 2003 at the age of seventy-five.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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