Hank Ballard (born John Henry Kendricks; November 18, 1927 – March 2, 2003) was a rhythm and blues singer and songwriter, the lead vocalist of The Midnighters and one of the first rock and roll artists to emerge in the early 1950s. He played an integral part in the development of the genre, releasing the hit singles “Work With Me, Annie” and answer songs “Annie Had a Baby” and “Annie’s Aunt Fannie” with his Midnighters. He later wrote and originally recorded (in 1959) “The Twist” which was notably covered a year later by Chubby Checker, this second version spreading the popularity of the dance. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
In 1953, Ballard joined doo-wop group the Royals, which had previously been discovered by Johnny Otis and signed to Federal Records (a division of King Records), in Cincinnati. Ballard joined Henry Booth, Charles Sutton, Sonny Woods and Alonzo Tucker in the group, replacing previous singer Lawson Smith.
The Royals released “Get It” (1953), an R&B song with possibly sexually oriented lyrics, which some radio stations refused to play, although it still made it to number 6 on the Billboard R&B chart.
The group then changed its name to the Midnighters to avoid confusion with the “5” Royales. 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, spending seven weeks at number 1 on the R&B charts and also selling well in mainstream markets, along with the answer songs “Annie Had a Baby” and “Annie’s Aunt Fannie”; all were banned by the FCC from radio air play. 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 had four other R&B chart hits in 1954–55, but no others until 1959, by which time the group was billed as “Hank Ballard and The Midnighters” with their label changed from Federal to King, the parent label. Between 1959 and 1961 they had several more both on the R&B and Pop charts, starting with “Teardrops on Your Letter”, a number 4 R&B hit in 1959 that had as its B-side the Ballard-written song “The Twist”. A few months later, Chubby Checker’s cover version of the song went to number 1 on the pop charts. It would return to the top of the charts again in 1962 – the only song in the rock and roll era to reach number 1 in two different non-consecutive years.
Ballard and the Midnighters had several other hit singles in 1962, including the Grammy-nominated “Finger Poppin’ Time” (1960) and “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” (1960) which hit number 7 and number 6, respectively, on the Billboard pop charts. They did not reach the charts again after 1962 and dissolved in 1965.