HAWKINS, JALACY "SCREAMIN JAY" (18 July1929 - 12 February 2000), was born in Cleveland Ohio. Being one of eight children, Hawkins was orphaned as an infant. He was adopted at 18 months old by a Blackfoot Indian couple who raised him. He learned how to play the piano as well as to read and write music by the time he turned four years old. In his teenage years, he shared his talents on the piano by performing in music venues around Cleveland, such as Gleason's Musical Bar.
In 1942, Hawkins dropped out of high school and decided to enlist in the U.S. army by forging his birth certificate to hide the fact that he was only 13 years old. He was stationed in the Pacific and purportedly fought in WWII. During his time in service, he also boxed in the U.S. Army’s boxing circuit. He also was in several local Golden Gloves competitions in Cleveland, but his biggest achievement in boxing was when he became the middleweight champion of Alaska in 1949.
Hawkins’ love of music continued to grow when he met guitarist Tiny Grimes in Philadelphia two years later. He worked as Grimes’ vocalist, keyboardist and chauffeur. The following year, Hawkins became a solo artist when he performed his bluesy, jazzy song titled, “Why Did You Waste My Time” with the support of Grimes and His Rockin’ Highlanders. Subsequently, he found his unique style saying that he needed to be different to catch people’s attention.
In 1956, Hawkins signed with OKeh records and released his original song “I Put a Spell on You” which ultimately sold millions of copies and was later selected as one of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” on the Rolling Stones’ magazine. He originally wrote the song as a love ballad however, prior to recording, his producer brought food and drinks for him and the band and they all became inebriated which made the resulting recording more powerful. By elucidating his personal cultural background within the soul music he played, Hawkins was able to intertwine music, along with a powerful narrative voice, which emotionally connected his words to his audience. This recording was the catalyst that turned the blues singer into a legend and made him an early pioneer of shock rock. The song was later covered by many notable and successful artists including Chaka Chan, Nina Simone, Marilyn Manson and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Cleveland DJ Alan Freed convinced Hawkins to perform his hit song using macabre props such as skeletons, bones and a coffin. This was a huge success and became the most memorable act in Screamin Jay’s career.
For about a decade, from about 1962 to 1971, Hawkins lived in Hawaii and at this point he began attempts to establish his own publishing business. He was also often in New York City around this time in order to continue his own personal musical endeavors, the trips supported largely by the royalties paid to him from the agents and publishers of the artists who had covered his songs. Hawkins continued to tour, especially around Europe, and also played roles in movies such as “A Rage in Harlem” and “Mystery Train”. In February 12, 2000, Hawkins died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France after an emergency surgery to treat an aneurysm. The following year, a documentary about Hawkins’ life was released titled, “I Put a Spell on Me”.
Screamin Jay was married six times. He and his first wife had three children, although Hawkins claimed to have fathered dozens more. Following his death a friend of Hawkins established a website focused on identifying his children, of whom 33 have been connected. Screamin Jay Hawkins was 71 when he died. His his last wife was by his side, she was 31 years old.
Hawkins' work was critical to many rock genres. His music would eventually influence the development of what has become known as shock or goth rock and can also be heard in the work of Black Sabbath, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Led Zeppelin. Despite this the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum has yet to commemorate Screamin Jay Hawkins.