Hank Ballard, the singer and songwriter whose hit “The Twist” ushered in a nationwide dance craze in the 1960s, died March 4, 2003 at his home in Los Angeles.
He had been suffering from throat cancer, friends said. Ballard’s birth date has been given as Nov. 18, 1936, in publicity materials over the years, but friend and caretaker Anna Ayala said his birth records indicate he was born in 1927. “He was just a very good man and loved by so many people,” Ayala said.
Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. He wrote and recorded “The Twist” in 1958, but it was only released on the “B” side of a record. A year later, Chubby Checker debuted his own version of “The Twist” on Dick Clark’s Philadelphia television show. It soon topped the charts and launched a dance craze that prompted the creation of other Twist songs, including “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers and “Twistin’ the Night Away” by Sam Cooke.
In a 1996 interview Ballard described music as his medicine. “If you’re looking for youth, you’re looking for longevity, just take a dose of rock ‘n’ roll,” Ballard said. “It keeps you going. Just like the caffeine in your coffee. Rock ‘n’ roll is good for the soul, for the well-being, for the psyche, for your everything. I love it. I can’t even picture being without rock ‘n’ roll.”
Ballard, who was born John H. Kendricks in Detroit, grew up singing in church in Bessemer, Alabama. At 15 he moved back to Detroit and set out to form a doo-wop group while working on the Ford Motor Co. assembly line.
He was discovered in the early 1950’s by writer-producer Johnny Otis. Ballard was lead singer for the Royals, which changed its name to the Midnighters. His songs were sometimes banned from 1950’s radio for their sexually suggestive lyrics. But by the early 1960’s he had charted 22 singles on the rhythm-and-blues charts, including “Work with Me Annie” — the biggest R&B hit of 1954, selling more than 1 million copies.
Ballard and the Midnighters didn’t suffer from Checker’s version of “The Twist.” In 1960 the group had three simultaneous hits in the pop top 40: “Finger Poppin’ Time,” “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” and their original version of “The Twist.”
He was an all-around entertainer. He was dynamite onstage,” said friend and business associate