The Man With The Golden Voice
Roy Kelton Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988) nicknamed "the big O" was an influential American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll whose recording career spanned more than thirty years.
Born in Vernon, Texas, he was raised in the tiny oil town of Wink, Texas, with music a part of his family life. Two misconceptions stubbornly continue to surface about Roy, one, that "he was an albino", and two, that he wore his trademark dark glasses because "he was blind" or nearly so. Neither are correct, although his myopia required thick corrective lenses.
A number of other artists have recorded songs written by Orbison, including the Everly Brothers, Don Gibson, Linda Ronstadt, Don McLean, Mireille Mathieu, Chris Isaak, Dwight Yoakam, and Van Halen. Singer Sonny James would have a number 1 hit on the country music charts with a cover of Orbison's "Only The Lonely".
Roy Orbison first toured Australia with the Rolling Stones in 1963 and would build a devout following there. A few songs that had only reasonable success in North America, such as "Penny Arcade" and "Working for the Man" would go to #1 on the Australian charts. Similarly, he was enormously popular in England, logging three No.1 hit singles and was several times voted top male vocalist of the year. His popularity extended to Germany, and he recorded his hit song "Mama" in German. In France he was viewed as the master of the ballad of lost love in the vein of that country's most popular singer Edith Piaf and a cover version of Orbison's "Blue Bayou" sung in French by Mireille Mathieu went to the top of France's record charts. Adoring fans in the Netherlands founded his largest world-wide fan club. Much loved in Belgium, at an awards ceremony in Antwerp, a few days before his passing, Roy Orbison gave his only public rendition of the hit "You Got It" to the thundering applause of a huge crowd. Adopted by intensely loyal fans in Ireland, where he continued to perform despite the constant terrorist activities, his powerful rendition of the ancient Irish folk ballad "Danny Boy" on the 1972 Memphis album is considered one of the best recordings ever made of this much-recorded song.
In 1980 he teamed up with Emmylou Harris to win the 1981 Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for their song, "That Lovin' You Feelin' Again." He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the induction speech made by his devout follower Bruce Springsteen. Described as a cinematographic masterpiece, that year's black and white Cinemax television special titled Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night, brought Orbison a whole new generation of fans. Put together by musical director, T-Bone Burnett, Orbison was accompanied by a who's who supporting cast, all fans, and all volunteers who lobbied to participate. On piano, Glen Hardin, who had played piano for Buddy Holly as well as for years for Elvis Presley, plus male background vocals with some on guitar, were: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Steven Soles, with k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes, and Bonnie Raitt singing the female background vocals.
Roy Orbison's life was filled with personal tragedies. His first wife, Claudette (Frady), died in a 1966 motorcycle accident. (The Everly Brothers hit "Claudette" had been written about her, by Roy.) Two years later, the family home at Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, Tennessee burned to the ground while Roy was touring in England, and two of his three young sons, Anthony and Roy Jr., died in the fire. The youngest boy, Wesley, at the time only three, was saved by Roy's parents. These events affected him profoundly but after a few years he would continue to play to loyal audiences all across the globe. Tragedy would strike again, when, in 1973, Orbison's elder brother Grady Lee Orbison, died in a motor vehicle accident in Henderson, Tennessee when on his way to visit Roy for Thanksgiving.
Several years after having had bypass surgury, Orbison suffered a massive heart attack at age 52 and died while visiting at his mother's home in Hendersonville a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee on December 6, 1988 before his last album Mystery Girl could be released. Both the album and the single from it, "You Got It", were hits, and are generally regarded as Orbison's best work since his success of the 1950s and 1960s. He was the posthumous winner of the 1991 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and in 1992, the popular "I Drove All Night" and "Heartbreak Radio" appeared on the posthumous album, King Of Hearts, produced by Jeff Lynne. At the direction of his second wife, Roy Orbison was interred December 15th, 1988 in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California even though his two sons and their mother, Claudette, who predeceased him, had been laid to rest at his request in the Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.
* Roy Orbison is only one of two singers to ever simultaneously have two Top 5 albums on the Billboard Charts (the other is Elvis Presley).
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