Al Hibbler Biography

Albert George Hibbler, 16 August 1915, Tyro, Mississippi, USA, d. 24 April 2001, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Blind from birth, Hibbler attended the Conservatory for the Blind in Little Rock, Arkansas, becoming a member of the school choir. After winning an amateur talent contest in Memphis, he worked with local bands and his own outfit before joining Jay ‘Hootie’ McShann in 1942. In the following year he joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra, proving to be one of the best male singers the leader ever employed. In the 40s he sang on Ellington records such as ‘Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues’, ‘I’m Just A Lucky So-And-So’, ‘Pretty Woman’, ‘Don’t Be So Mean To My Baby’, ‘Good Woman Blues’, and ‘Build That Railroad’ (1950). During his eight year stay with Ellington, Hibbler won the Esquire New Star Award (1947) and DownBeat Best Band Vocalist (1948-49). He subsequently recorded with several well-known jazz musicians in his backing groups, among them Harry Carney, Billy Kyle, Count Basie and Gerald Wilson.

In the 50s Hibbler’s recordings of songs such as ‘It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dream’, which he had recorded with Ellington, ‘The Very Thought Of You’ and ‘Star Dust’ proved popular, while his version of ‘Unchained Melody’ (a Top 5 million-seller) was outstanding. In the 50s he also made the US Top 30 with ‘He’ (number 4), ‘11th Hour Melody’ (number 21), ‘Never Turn Back’ (number 22) and ‘After The Lights Go Down Low’ (number 10). His involvement with the civil rights movement during the 60s was detrimental to his career, although he was championed by Frank Sinatra and his Reprise Records label. He also recorded a 1972 session with the blind multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. A powerful, rich-toned baritone, with a steady vibrato, Hibbler cannot be regarded as a jazz singer but as an exceptionally good interpreter of twentieth-century popular songs who happened to work with some of the best jazz musicians of the time.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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