I was saddened this week by the death of my friend Jay Black who passed away at the age of 82 from complications from pneumonia.

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Jay Black was known as “The Voice”. He was the lead singer of Jay & The Americans, a 60's group that had some pretty big hits like Only in America, Come a Little Bit Closer, Some Enchanted Evening and Cara Maria to name a few.

Jay Black was the second lead singer that the group had and he replaced Jay Traynor in 1963. Jay’s real name was David Blatt and for conformity as the lead singer of the group he changed his first name to Jay. In an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, Mike asked him his last name, Jay blurted out Blatt but Mike misheard him and said Black? And Jay said yes. So from that day Jay became Jay Black.

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I first met Jay some 32 years ago when I hosted a show that he was performing. I met him backstage and once we started to talk it was like we knew each other for years. Jay was hysterical, telling stories that were far from family friendly but had you crying with laughter.

When I was on another radio station I would call him to be on the show for a 4 – 6minute interview to promote an upcoming New Jersey show that he was performing and that I was hosting. He wouldn’t get off the phone. We talked on and off the air about him working with other groups, including opening up for the Beatles to how his son Beau was doing in school.

He would always bust my chops about my weight backstage and on stage and I enjoyed the banter back and forth and the crowd would enjoy it too. We would do a couple of shows at the famed Club Bene’ in Sayreville and the club was a little rough around the edges and he came out and asked the crowd “How many of you had the fish for dinner here tonight?” Some would raise their hands and he would look around the room and say, “You’re all going to die!”

He had been in a limo accident with his son Beau in the car and cracked a couple of ribs and it was hard for Jay to breathe. After taking some time to heal he called me to say that he wanted to do a show at Club Bene’ to see if he could hit the high notes, particularly in his classic Cara Mia.

He was actually apprehensive before that show and I tried to assure him that if he didn’t hit it, people would certainly understand. He got out and killed the song, backstage immediately after he was writhing in pain.

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He had his problems; he was a gambler and owed the IRS hundreds of thousands of dollars. The IRS took away his association with Jay & The Americans so that they could sell the name of the band to pay against the back taxes. They “allowed” him to perform as Jay Black and he did. 

In 2017 he was on stage at The Mohegan Sun Casino and apologized to the crowd for not being able to hit the high notes that made him “The Voice”. He told the crowd, “I can’t sing”. He developed dementia and was fighting medical issues the last four years.

He loved to perform, he loved to make people laugh and I enjoyed our friendship. Rest in peace “The Voice”.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.

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