The Greatest Gift : Arthur Prysock ©2002JCMarion


Arthur Prysock was born in Greensboro, North Carolina in January of 1925. In the back of his mind he always knew he wanted to be a singer. By the time he was a teenager he had moved to Hartford, Connecticut to seek work in defense plants in the area. Giving singing a go in local clubs such as The Flamingo Lounge with the band of Harold Holt, he was heard by someone connected to Buddy Johnson's band who just happened to be passing through the area. Soon Arthur had an audition with Johnson, the "king of the one nighters" and found himself invited to join the band in late 1944. He soon had his first hit record with Johnson with the songs "Since I Fell For You" and "They All Say I'm The Biggest Fool" on Decca #48016 in 1946. Other hits with Prysock on vocal with the Buddy Johnson band were "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone" on #48040, "Because" parts one and two on #24842 in early 1950, and "I Cry" on #27330. In September Larry Shields, top R & B disc jockey in Georgia announces that Arthur Prysock has won the listeners poll as the top male vocalist.

"Jet" on #27416 for Decca finds good sales and airplay in early 1951. In May Arthur records "My Reverie" with the Johnson band on Decca #27567. In late spring "We'd Only Start It All Over Again" on #27627, while Decca Records signs Prysock to record as a single while still a member of the Johnson orchestra. In August of the year Prysock records his first Decca single as a solo artist - "Blue Velvet" and "The Morning Side Of The Mountain" on #27722 with Sy Oliver and his orchestra. It is the first record by Prysock released on 45 rpm. In September Prysock does the vocal on Buddy Johnson's Decca release "I'm In Your Power" on #27111.

In February of 1952, Arthur Prysock announces that at the end of the current tour with Buddy Johnson, he will leave the band and go out as a solo artist. The same month Decca releases two versions of the tune "I Hear A Rhapsody" by Prysock and Helen Humes. The flip side of the version by Arthur has "Am I To Blame?" on Decca #27978. His previous record for Decca "I Didn't Sleep A Wink Last Night" is selling big in Texas, while "At Last" with Buddy Johnson is released on Decca #27998. In March "I Didn't Sleep A Wink" starts to sell in Chicago and Detroit. In April word gets out that Arthur owns a high class hair cutting salon in Brooklyn. "My Aching Heart" recorded with Buddy Johnson is issued by Decca in May on #28165. In August Arthur heads out on tour as a single artist for the first time. He is joined on the tour by The Sweethearts of Rhythm. In mid September Arthur hits the road again with a show called "The Number One Blues And Jazz Show" and will do a series of one nighters throughout the east and Mid Atlantic. Also on the bill are Varetta Dillard, Peppermint Harris, Joan Shaw, and the Billy Hutchins Blues Express. Late in the year a double bill of Arthur Prysock and Joan Shaw does great business on the West Coast.

In January Prysock is joined by Marie Adams and Edgar Blanchard's band for a tour of one nighters throughout Texas. The Texas tour does good business, especially in Houston. In May, Arthur comes in number one as male vocalist in the eighth annual Theatrical Poll of readers by the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most widely read and respected Black newspapers in the country. Also in May Prysock does a well received week at the Orchid Room in Kansas City. He continues his stay in the Midwest with a two week stay at the Midtown Hotel in St. Louis. Arthur will rejoin his old boss Buddy Johnson, at the Pittsburgh Courier's annual concert of jazz and blues to be held in Philadelphia. Also on the bill are gospel singer Clara Ward, Ruth Brown, The Ravens, and Dorothy Dandridge. Efforts are also underway to include Nat Cole to the list of performers. In October, "My Mood" and "Temptation" are released on Decca #28867. "Operation Music", the Pittsburgh Courier's concert of poll winners takes place at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. Added to the bill were Dinah Washington, The Ray-O-Vacs, Earl Hines, Billie Holiday, and Dolores Parker. Late in the month Prysock shares the stage with Mabel Scott at Chicago's Regal Theater, and then goes on to that city's Toast Of The Town night club.

In February of 1954, Bobby Shad of Mercury Records announces the signing of Arthur Prysock away from Decca. In May Decca releases "Baby Don't You Cry" and "My Last Goodbye" on #29118. In July Arthur takes part in a big welcome back party for Willie Bryant at Harlem's Baby Grand Club. During the summer of 1955, Arthur finds himself once again sharing the stage with one time boss Buddy Johnson and his band with sister Ella Johnson.Also on the bill for the big show which is touring the South is Chuck Berry, Al Savage, The Four Fellows, Nutmegs, and Bull Moose Jackson. In September Mercury subsidiary label Wing, releases "Woke Up This Morning" (written by B.B. King) and "Come Home" with Red Prysock's combo (a first for the brothers) on #90016. Early in 1956 brothers Arthur and Red Prysock share a rare joint appearance in Trenton, New Jersey at the Crossings Inn. Later in the year they join forces again at Florida's Palm Gardens. Late in 1956 Arthur finds an opportunity to record for Don Robey's Peacock label in Houston, Texas. His first release for the label is "There Goes The Mailman" and "Oh Ho Oh Yeah (What The Heck)" on #1670.

In February of 1957 Arthur is on the bill for a big week long show at the Regal Theater in Chicago. Jimmy Reed, The El Dorados, Spaniels, Joe Turner, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Gene & Eunice, and the Tab Smith band will also be on hand for the show mc'ed by Al Benson. In July Peacock Records finally releases a new side by Arthur - "Too Long I've Waited" and "Bye Bye Baby" on #1676. Arthur returns to Chicago at summer's end and does another week at the Regal with Al Benson in a show starring Amos Milburn and Ivory Joe Hunter.

In March of 1958 Arthur joins Buddy Johnson and band with Ella Johnson, B.B. King, Arnett Cobb, Annie Laurie, Linda Hopkins, and Joe Tex at a big "King Bee's Royal Court" show in Houston, Texas, presented by dj Clifton "King Bee" Smith. In April Arthur does a week in Chicago at the "Spring Festival of Stars" show presented by dj Al Benson. Also on the bill are Ruth Brown, The Spaniels, Sonny Boy Williamson, Johnny Griffin, and others. In June Hy Weiss of Old Town Records in New York announces the signing of Arthur Prysock to that label. He records "Since I Fell For You" and "Between Hello And Goodbye" on Old Town #1003. In July "I Love You So" and "The Greatest Gift" is released by Old Town on #1055. The record is a slow but steady seller for three months. In late November "I Just Want To Make Love To You" an old Muddy Waters tune, and "Keep A Light In Your Window For Me" is out on Old Town #1060. By 1959 Arthur Prysock realizes that his audience is adult listeners, rather than the rock 'n roll teenagers who are the bulk of the single record buyers. Old Town moves to issue Prysock on LPs where he can make an impact as a romantic ballad singer, and the label brings in Henry Glover, former trumpeter with Lucky Millinder and a long time arranger for King Records to work with Arthur for Old Town. "My Faith" and "I Worry About You" are released in July on Old Town #1073. A single of "It's Too Late Baby (Too Late)" on Old Town #1183 sells well in the 60s (the flip side is "My Silent Prayer"). Other Old Town singles are "When Love Was New" #7485, and "I Want'cha Baby" on #7885.

In the first half of the decade of the 60s Prysock records a number of albums for Old Town Records. Among them are - "I Worry About You" #102, "Sings Only For You" #2004, "Coast To Coast" #2005, "Portrait" #2006, "Everlasting Songs For Everlasting Lovers" #2007, "Intimately Yours" #2008, "Double Header" #2009, and "In The Mood" #2010. By the mid sixties he appeared at Carnegie Hall and sang with the Count Basie Orchestra for a time. Albums for Verve Records followed - The Best Of . . #5011, "I Must Be Doing Something Right" # 5059, "This Is My Beloved" #8616, "Jazz Round Midnight" "Art And Soul", and "Morning Noon and Night". In the midst of this prolific period of recording, he manages to have a hit single in 1968 with "A Working Man's Prayer" for Verve. In the late 60s Arthur switches labels again, this time on King Records. This partnership results in the LP albums "Blues Country", "Precious Memories", "The Country Side" #1064, "Where The Soul Trees Grow" #1066, "The Lord Is My Shepherd" #1067, and "Fly My Love" on #1088 in 1970.

In the mid seventies Old Town re-appears with two Arthur Prysock albums - "All My Life" on #12-004, "Arthur Prysock Does It Again" on 12-005, and "When Love Was New" on #12-450. With all those recordings and personal appearances however, the biggest boost to his "name", career, and identity, came with a TV commercial of all things. Over a pitch for Lowenbrau Beer was heard the unmistakable mellifluous tones of Arthur Prysock. I think I was alone when to the inevitable questions of "who is that singing ?" I could give them the answer - an overnight sensation, one who's been around for thirty years making that kind of music. Soon PBS did a show featuring Arthur with the Red Prysock trio that was well received. Arthur lived off his newfound notoriety for a few years, even making a pop version of the Lowenbrau song, before he faded from view. Then in a bit of re-invention, here was Arthur back in the mid 80s - still singing, still putting over a ballad. He recorded a series of well reviewed CDs for Milestone - "A Rockin' Good Way", "This Guy's In Love With You", and "Today's Love Songs, Tomorrow's Blues". A final CD for Polygram was issued in 1989 called "Compact Jazz".

A few years later Arthur passed away (four years after brother Red) in a place he retired to, a place he had always loved, the island of Bermuda in June of 1997. What a performer, and what a career ! Six decades of marvelous music and a lot of it is still available. The great romantic baritone voice, so similar to Billy Eckstine, and yet so constructed of its own nuances and characteristics. Arthur Prysock was a natural, as good a performer as ever hit the stage or stood in front of a microphone.

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