Billy Valentine had been an aspiring singer and pianist in the mid forties, looking to break into the R & B world of music. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1926 and attended Morehouse College. While there he had his own radio spot for two years on WGBE. At about this time he also organized his own small combo called the Harlem Nighthawks singing and playing piano. In 1949 having chosen music as his career he was performing in Houston Texas when opportunity came calling. Soon he was the object of positive word of mouth publicity, and before too long he would get his break. Charles Brown had decided to leave Johnny Moore's Three Blazers and go out on his own as a solo performer and the Blazers looking for a replacement got the word about Valentine. He fit the bill for the group and soon was touted as the new focal point of the well known group. Taking no chances at first, the combo re-recorded "Driftin Blues" (also known as "New Driftin Blues") in late 1949 their all time classic tune with Valentine on the vocal. He also led the group on "Walkin' Blues" which generated sales and airplay on the West coast. By the dawn of the new decade the group thought there might be a possibility of crossover success and signed on with the Mercury Records label. In April of 1950 #8173 was released - "How Long How Long Blues" / "Been Drinking, Baby". Soon after the record was released the combo embarked on an extensive Southern tour of one nighters, with Valentine featured on vocals and Hal Singer on sax for many of the dates.
In late May of the year Mercury releases #8177 pairing the tunes "I Ain't Gonna Cry No More" and "I Want You To Love Me". The quartet is comprised of Johnny Moore on drums, Oscar Moore on guitar, Johnny Miller on bass, and Billy Valentine on piano and vocals. Having no success on Mercury, the four soon moved over to another major label, RCA Victor. The first release for their new label came out in mid June on #22-0086 "Rain Check" and "Melody" as by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers with vocal by Billy Valentine. In August RCA issues #22-0095 - "The Jumping Jack" / "Someday You'll Need Me". Valentine at least is being recognized by the public as proven by a radio poll of listeners in the Atlanta area to pick the most popular Black performers. Billy finishes third among male vocalists behind Arthur Prysock and Billy Eckstine, pretty heady company. In September feeling that he would do better on his own, Valentine leaves the Three Blazers and goes out as a solo performer emulating Charles Brown who he had replaced with the group. By the end of 1950 he had signed a record deal with Decca Records as the label attempts to boost its presence in the R & B field.
In January of 1951 Decca releases its first recording by Valentine on the tunes "Once There Lived A Fool" and "Three Handed Woman" as by the Billy Valentine Trio. Sales and airplay are minimal and Valentine spends much of the year scuffling for playing dates and second tier club gigs. Later in the year Decca releases "Forever" / "She's Fit 'n Fat 'n Fine" on #48243 and in two months followed that up with #48261 - "Baby Please Don't Go" and "It's A Sin To Tell A Lie". The year of 1952 was less than a banner year for Valentine. He worked much of the time but it was spent on the periphery of the R & B music world, and soon Decca Records did not renew his contract.
In March of 1953, Prestige Records, a New York independent label that up to now specialized in modern jazz, looked to enter the R & B field and signed Billy Valentine. The label issued "Gambling Man" and "I Want To Love You". In the middle of the year Decca released a Valentine recording of "Baby You're A Queen To Me" on #28801. The flip side was a Floyd Smith vocal on "Don't Cry Baby". On New Year's Day of 1954 Valentine appears at the Apollo Theater in New York performing with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra at a big bash for former boxing champion Joe Louis. Eventually Prestige Records went back to concentrating on its jazz product and Valentine was cut adrift once again. In early 1955 he signs with another New York independent label, Rainbow Records. Almost immediately Rainbow decides to call it quits, but somehow Billy Valentine surfaces on a Capitol Records release in the summer of the year on #3145 with "Your Love Has Got Me Reeling And Rocking" and "It's A Sin". The last mention of Valentine in the trade press is his signing a management contract with Phil Kahl's Variety management. 1958 still finds him singing in the New York City area for a Rock 'n RollRevue with The Willows, Jesters, and other vocal groups. In 1959 he records for Federal Records on #12346 with the songs "Cold Hearted Lover" and "Wasted Tears".
This seemingly ends the story of Billy Valentine as a performer during the golden years of Rhythm & Blues. He is another of those talented R & B musicians that missed out on the rock 'n roll explosion of the mid fifties and were just ahead of their time. It is a part of the down side of music history, but performers like Billy Valentine should be remembered for being part of its story.
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