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Oregon Singer Earns Nickname as “The Prince of Wails”

It is said that singer Johnnie Ray wrote one of his biggest hits, “The Little White Cloud That Cried,” on the banks of the Umpqua River in Roseburg, Ore. He entertained for a time at the Elks Lodge on Jackson Street.

A double-sided, 78 rpm single of “Cry” and “The Little White Cloud That Cried” launched Ray to stardom in 1951. By March of 1952, three Ray songs were among the top six of the national musical charts, including “Cry,”  “Please Mr. Sun,” and “The Little White Cloud.”

Tony Bennett has called Ray the father of rock-and-roll. On stage, Ray tore his hair, cried, kissed and fell to his knees, earning sobriquets as "The Prince of Wails," "The Crying Crooner" and "The Nabob of Sob." Ray once said, “I was an original.”

Ray’s U.S. popularity faded within a decade, but he continued for years to draw crowds of swooning teen-agers in England and Australia, setting an attendance record at the London Palladium.

Ray was born in Dallas, Ore., where the Polk County Museum held a Johnnie Ray Day in 2001, eleven years after his death at age 63.  He is buried in the Hopewell Cemetery.

Sources: Henderson, Tom. "The tracks of his tears." Polk County Itemizer Observer. Dallas, Ore. 14 Oct. 2001 (as reprinted in Oregon Magazine). Web. 22 Nov. 2014. http://www.oregonmag.net/JohnnyRayDIO1101.htm; Kilgour, Colin. "Johnnie Ray." Black Cat Rocabilly Europe. Feb. 2004. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. http://www.rockabilly.nl/references/messages/johnnie_ray.htm; "Johnnie Ray." Wikipedia. 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. .

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.