Jay Black, Lead Singer of Jay & the Americans, Died; He Was A Footnote in Beatles History

Jay Black, the famous lead singer of Jay and the Americans, died on October 22, 2021 in the New York City borough of Queens at the age of 82. Jay and the Americans began having hits one year before the arrival of The Beatles with “Only in America” reaching number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. Few people know Jay Black’s entry on the radar screen of Beatles’ history. Two days after the Fab Four made their monumental debut on U.S. television with their famous performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9, 1964, the band had their first U.S. concert in Washington, D.C. on February 11, 1964 at the Washington Coliseum. Two other bands opened for the Beatles, Jay and the Americans and the Righteous Brothers. Of course, when Jay and the Americans came on stage as the first act, the audience was screaming “We Want The Beatles!” as Jay and the Americans performed. Thinking quickly, he said to the audience,”Hey, man, I’m glad you all came to see us tonight”. The audience uniformly cracked up and that won them over. They listened to the full set of Jay Black and the Americans, and afterwards gave them a big round of applause.

In his controversial 1988 biography The Lives of John Lennon, author Albert Goldman wrote of the first U.S. concert at the Washington Coliseum:

“The Coliseum concert established the pattern, though not the standard, for all feature Beatles’ performances in America. Basically the event was a giant pep rally with salvational overtones. The emphasis was on the vast and frenzied audience rather than on the performers, who were dwarfed by the distance, drowned out by the noise, and overborne by the aggressiveness of a generation that would soon burst the old boundaries of public decorum and turn rock concerts into festivals of participatory culture. In this mad milieu the Beatles were reduced to marionettes, jouncing about on the distant stage. The Beatles’ songs, hanged out in the rough-and-ready style of such occasions, revealed their essential appeal as chants and shouts, the sort of thing to sing at a football game, a political convention, or a carnival ball. Ultimately the Beatles became America’s foremost cheerleaders.”

A compelling article on this famous concert appeared in the Washington Post on February 10, 2014 on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. The article is titled “The Beatles’ first U.S. concert: An oral history of the day the Fab Four conquered D.C.” and was written by veteran journalist J. Freedom du Lac.

Jay & The Americans had ten entries into the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 from 1962 to 1970. Their first entry, “She Cried” which reached number 5 in March 1962, actually featured their first lead singer named Jay, John “Jay” Traynor”. A couple of months later Jay Traynor left the group and was replaced by David Blatt, who adopted the stage name “Jay Black” so the band could continue with the name Jay & The Americans. The band’s first single with Jay Black was “Only in America”, which reached number 25 in September 1963. That was followed with their smash hit “Come a Little Bit Closer”, which reached number three in September 1963 and had looked like it would reach number one; it was followed by “Let’s Lock the Door (And Throw Away the Key”) which stalled at number 11 in February 1965.

In July 1965, “Cara, Mia”, which some consider to be the band’s signature song, reached number four. “Cara, Mia” was followed by “Some Enchanted Evening”, a song from the musical South Pacific which had been a big number one song for Perry Como in 1949, which reached number 13. “Sunday and Me” and “Crying” charted in the Top 40, and the next song would not chart for almost three years. “This Magic Moment” reached number six and was one of the major hits of 1969. The last entry for Jay & The Americans” was in January 1970 when “Walkin’ in the Rain”, a song penned by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, spent seven weeks in the Top 40 and reached number 19.

Jay Black will forever be remembered for winning over the crowd at The Beatles’ first concert in the U.S.

This is the setlist from the concert:

1. “Roll Over Beethoven”

2. “From Me to You”

3. “I Saw Her Standing There”

4. “This Boy”

5. “All MY Loving”

6. “I Want to Be Your Man”

7. “Please Please Me”

8. “Till There Was You”

9. “She Love You”

10. “I Want to Hold Your Hand”

11. “Twist and Shout”

12. “Long Tall Sally”