The Greek Rhythm and Blues Legend Who Passed as Black

Johnny Otis (center) with his band The Johnny Otis Revue

While James Brown was seen as the Godfather of soul music, for many music critics Johnny Otis was considered the Godfather of rhythm and blues. But what his many fans across the U.S.A. did not know was that he was actually a Greek-American.

In his long career Johnny Otis wore many hats, and he was a pioneer in many ways. He was a bandleader, talent scout, singer, drummer, church minister, journalist, television show host and radio producer.

Between 1950 and 1952, Johnny and his band recorded fifteen top 40 R&B hits. He discovered, produced and promoted legends such as Etta James, Little Esther, Big Mama Thornton and Jackie Wilson.

There is even an unsubstantiated story that he was responsible for coining the new term “rock and roll” as rhythm and blues was transforming into rock and roll during the decade of the 1950’s.

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