The golden the voice of Jesse Belvin

Norman Richmond | 12/5/2012, 5 p.m.

It may be that no one who is willing to talk knows the true circumstances of the death of R&B singer Jesse Belvin nearly 53 years ago, but the suspicion abounds that he and his wife were murdered.
Had he lived, Belvin would turn 80 on Dec. 15.

What is known is that Belvin, his wife JoAnn and their driver were involved in a horrific head-on collision in Hope, Ark., on Feb. 6, 1960, about four hours after the singer completed a concert in Little Rock, the state capital.

Belvin, 27, and the driver died at the scene; JoAnn, 23, died later at Hope Hospital.

According to a report, one of the first state troopers investigating the accident said both of the rear tires on the Belvins' black Cadillac had been tampered with. Other reports said the tires had been slashed.

Belvin had reportedly received six death threats prior to the concert, which was to be the first in the city with an integrated audience. The show was stopped twice because of belligerent Whites--angry over the idea that Whites and Blacks were mingling together in a concert setting--who kept shouting racial slurs and urging White teens to leave.

Belvin had uncharacteristically called his mother twice to complain about the hostility he and other R&B stars, including Jackie Wilson and Arthur Prysock, were experiencing.

Investigative journalist Eric Lenaburg, who is co-writing a book titled, "Good Night, My Love," on Belvin's life with his son Jesse Belvin Jr., has been investigating Belvin's death off and on for 32 years and has completed more than 100 interviews.

"Further statements were made to me personally by Arkansas State Troopers, Hope police and sheriff's office spokespersons, and though many of these statements contradicted one another in some details, all were in unison that it was no accident," says Lenaburg.

"From eyewitness accounts outside the concert, at least five young men were seen hovering near both Jesse Belvin's and Jackie Wilson's vehicles. One person stated that two men were trying to block the view of the Belvin car while another was underneath it."

In the book, "Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke," author Peter Guralnick discusses the Belvins' death. "It was the same old ugly peckerwood story: the show was booked to play a segregated dance, and when Jackie refused to do a second show for Whites, after a "hot dispute with (the) dance manager, Wilson and his group were allegedly ordered out of town at gunpoint."

"Investigators believed that ... disgruntled White dance fans were responsible for slashing Belvin's tires, a conclusion bolstered by the rumor that both Wilson and Prysock also suffered problems as they drove to their next date in Dallas."

What that "car accident" did, some feel, was quiet one of the most gifted and promising R&B voices the nation has produced.

The late singer Etta James was quoted as calling him "The most gifted of us all. Even now I consider him the greatest singer of my generation. Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, crooner, you name it, he was going to be bigger than Sam Cooke, bigger than Nat Cole."