Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Hawkins has cited Paul Robeson and Enrico Caruso as early influences, and originally set out to become an opera singer. He was unable to do so, and began his career as a conventional blues singer and pianist.
He served in the US Army in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, primarily as an entertainer, although he claimed to have been a POW. Hawkins was an avid and formidable boxer: In 1949, he was the middleweight boxing champion of Alaska.
In 1951, he joined guitarist Tiny Grimes for a while, and recorded a few songs with him.
"I Put A Spell On You"
His most successful recording, "I Put a Spell on You" (1956) remains one of rock and roll's singular recordings, and has been selected as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
The song starts out with the big-voiced Hawkins singing a ballad to a lost love. Very quickly, however, the performance becomes something unique: Hawkins seems positively demented as he sings, he threatens wildly, screams, grunts and groans, and sounds utterly demoniacal in reclaiming the lady as his own.
Hawkins had originally intended to record "I Put A Spell On You" as a refined love song, a blues ballad. He reported, however, that the producer "brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version. I don't even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death."
Some sources claim that "I Put A Spell On You" had been released earlier than 1956 in a more sedate form, but this has not been verified. The date of 1949 for an original release on the Grand label would appear unlikely since it predates both the formation of the label and the beginning of Hawkins's performing career.
"I Put A Spell On You" became a quick success, despite being banned by some stores and radio stations. A softer version minus certain sounds deemed "cannibalistic" reached the Top 40 and brought Hawkins together with Alan Freed and his "Rock and Roll Review".
Up to this time, Hawkins had been a blues performer, emotional, but not wild. Freed suggested a gimmick to capitalize of the "demented" sound of "I Put A Spell On You": Hawkins wore a long cape, and appeared onstage by rising out of a coffin in the midst of smoke and fog.
The act was a sensation, later bolstered by tusks worn in Hawkins' nose, on-stage snakes and fireworks, and a cigarette-smoking skull named "Henry".
The theatrical act was one of the first shock rock performances, and was the progenitor of much that came later in rock and roll, including George Clinton, Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath, Screaming Lord Sutch, Warren Zevon. and Marilyn Manson, among the many who vied for Hawkins' title as a rock and roll madman.
Hawkins had several further hits, including "Constipation Blues", "Orange Colored Sky", and "Feast of the Mau Mau", which capitalized on the cannibalistic reputation, but nothing he released had the massive success of "I Put A Spell On You".
He continued to tour and record through the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in Europe, but his career was not advancing until filmmaker Jim Jarmusch featured "I Put a Spell on You" on the soundtrack – and deep in the plot – of his film Stranger Than Paradise (1983) and then the dour Hawkins himself as a hotel night clerk in his Mystery Train. This led to a few other movie performances, such as Alex de la Iglesia 's Perdita Durango and Bill Duke's adaptation of Chester Himes' A Rage In Harlem .
In July 1991 Hawkins released his album Black Music for White People. The record contains a Tom Waits penned song "Heart Attack and Vine" that later that year was used in Europe in a Levi's advertisement, and "Ice Cream Man" (a song written by blues guitarist John Brim and covered by Tom Waits in 1973, and by Van Halen in 1978).
Hawkins left many children by many women. About 55 were known (or suspected) upon his death, and upon investigation, that number "soon became perhaps 75 offspring." 
Though Hawkins' recording career lasted some forty years, his legacy rests primarily on "I Put A Spell On You", which has earned its place as one of early rock and roll's most memorable songs, and has been featured in advertisements, and has been covered dozens of times, by performers such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nick Cave, Bryan Ferry, Nina Simone, Marilyn Manson, and many others. Most of the covers treat the song seriously; few attempt to duplicate Hawkins's bravura performance.
In films, it has been performed by Bette Midler in Disney's Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus and by Diamanda Galás, whose version is featured in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, and Marilyn Manson's version, featured in David Lynch's Lost Highway.
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