The backup group with R&B legend Hank Ballard, this Detroit band was initially called the Royals when they formed in 1952. Henry Booth, Charles Sutton, Lawson Smith, and Sonny Woods were the original lineup. Ballard replaced Smith in 1953 and became the lead singer. They became the Midnighters in 1954. The group disbanded temporarily in 1965, then reformed with Frank Stadford, Walter Miller, and Wesley Hargrove. This unit worked in the James Brown Revue for several years.
Hank Ballard (born John Henry Kendricks) (November 18, 1927 - March 2, 2003) was an rhythm and blues singer, the lead vocalist of Hank Ballard and The Midnighters and one of the first proto-rock 'n' roll artists to emerge in the early 1950s. He played an integral part in the development of rock music, releasing the hit singles "Work With Me, Annie" and "Annie Had a Baby" with his Midnighters. He later wrote and recorded "The Twist", which was notably covered by Chubby Checker
Born John Henry Kendricks in Bessemer, Alabama, Ballard grew up in Detroit, Michigan with relatives, where he began singing in church and later aspired to a career in music. In 1951, Ballard formed a doo wop group. He was discovered by Johnny Otis, of the Little Esther Revue, and was signed to sing with a group called The Royals, along with Henry Booth, Charles Sutton, Sonny Woods and Alonzo Tucker. The Royals had already signed to Federal Records in Cincinnati when Ballard joined.
The group then changed its name to The Midnighters to avoid confusion with The "5" Royales. Sutton was replaced by Lawson Smith, while Thrasher was replaced by Sonny Woods. Tucker was replaced first by Arthur Porter and then by Cal Green. The group soon released "Get It" (1953), an R&B song with sexually oriented lyrics, which many radio stations refused to play.
In 1954, Ballard wrote a song called "Work With Me Annie" that was drawn from "Get It". It became The Midnighters' first major R&B hit and also sold well in mainstream markets, along with the answer song "Annie Had a Baby".
Their third major hit was "Sexy Ways," a song that cemented the band's reputation as one of the most risqué groups of the time. They are an illustration of why white radio stations tended to avoid playing songs by black R&B performers. For example, in the song "Open Up the Back Door", he sings a line "I want to make a little cream".
They had four more R&B chart hits in 1954-55. The Midnighters continued releasing singles and albums, and also changed their name to "Hank Ballard and The Midnighters". Their label also changed to King. They had no hits in 1956-58. Then between 1959 and 1961 they had several more both on the R&B and Pop charts, including "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" and the Grammy-nominated "Finger Popping Time, which hit #6 and #7, respectively, on the Billboard Pop Top 10 .
In 1959 Ballard's song "The Twist" was released as the B-side of "Teardrops on Your Letter". A year later Chubby Checker's cover version of the song went to #1 on the pop charts. (It would return to the top of the charts in 1962.) Though this brought about renewed interest in Ballard and The Midnighters for a time, this lasted for only a few years, and the group dissolved in 1965. Ballard tried to launch a solo career, working with James Brown. Though he later tried to re-form The Midnighters, the new lineups never achieved much success.
In 1990 Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On March 2, 2003, he died of throat cancer in his Los Angeles home, aged 76.