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Lest We Forget

Posted on February 12, 2000

“Screamin'” Jay Hawkins

Performed “I Put a Spell on You”


Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, a performer who mixed horror show macabre with cabaret and R&B, died Feb. 12 in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine after suffering multiple organ failure. He was 70.

Hawkins had undergone surgery early last week to treat an aneurysm, according to the Associated Press.

A singer and pianist, Hawkins’ best-known song was “I Put a Spell on You.” His show featured him entering the stage in a flaming coffin, an antic that led him to often say: “When I go, I don’t want to be buried. I’ve been in too many damn coffins already.”

His stage antics influenced artists such as David Bowie and Mick Jagger, and his trademark song was also recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nina Simone, the Animals, and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

Among his fans was filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who used “I Put a Spell on You” throughout his first major feature, “Stranger Than Paradise” and cast the singer as a hotel manager in “Mystery Train.”Hawkins also appeared as himself in the Alan Freed biopic “American Hot Wax” and in 1991’s “A Rage in Harlem.”

A Golden Gloves boxing champion in 1943, Hawkins was born in Cleveland and started his musical career in 1952 as a singer and pianist guitarist Tiny Grimes’ band.

In 1954 he toured the U.S. with Fats Domino, and a year later added “Screamin'” to his name. While appearing in Freed’s package tours, he took the DJ’s advice and was carried onstage in a flaming coffin. In later years, his stage accouterments included a skull and a rubber snake.

After writing “I Put a Spell on You,” he recorded it with screams and groans that led some radio stations to either ban the record or edit them out. In 1969, he recorded the equally bizarre “Constipation Blues.”

Hawkins spent much of the 1960s and 1970s in R&B package tours and in 1980 opened for the Rolling Stones at New York’s Madison Square Garden. His final album, “At Last,” was released in 1998.

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