Gary: “My wife, Birgit, just loves “Unchained Melody”, the fantastic production by Phil Spector, and sung by the Righteous Brothers. But a decade before that, in 1955, my mom and dad loved that song as it was sung by a blind R & B singer from Little Rock, Arkansas…
(August 16, 1915 – April 24, 2001)
1. Unchained Melody/ Decca 29441/ April 1955/ #3
2. He/ Decca 29660/ October 1955/ #4
3. 11th Hour Melody/ Decca 29789/ #21
4. Never Turn Back/ Decca 29950/ #22
5. After The Lights Go Down Low/ Decca 29982/ #10
Al Hibbler attended a school for the blind in Little Rock, Arkansas where he joined the school choir. He won an amateur talent contest in Memphis, Tennessee and at first worked with local bands, as well as starting a band of his own.
In 1942 he joined a band led by Jay McShann, and the next year he joined Duke Ellington’s band, replacing Herb Jeffries.
He worked eight years with Ellington before becoming a soloist. Some of his singing is classified as Rhythm & Blues, but his music can really be classified as a bridge between R&B and traditional pop music.
His biggest hit was “Unchained Melody” in 1955.
Other hits were “He”, “11th Hour Melody”, “Never Turn Back”, and “After the Lights Go Low” (all in 1956).
“After the Lights Go Low”, sung with a put-on British accent, was his last charted hit.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, Hibbler became a civil rights activist, marching with protesters and getting arrested in 1959 in New Jersey and in 1963 in Alabama. The notoriety of this activism discouraged major record labels from carrying his work, but Frank Sinatra supported him and signed him to a contract with his label, Reprise Records.
Al Hibbler made very few recordings after that, occasionally doing live appearances through the 1990s. He died in April, 2001 in Chicago.