Forever known as one of the initial New Orleans’ artists signed by Imperial Records who was produced by Dave Bartholomew in his first sessions for the company, King promptly provided them with their first hit, “3×7=21” which sold over a hundred thousand copies, but then through a series of unfortunate decisions she was quickly overtaken in the label’s pecking order by another signee at the same time named Fats Domino.

Mary Jewel King was actually born in Texas in 1910 but came to New Orleans in the mid-1940’s to pursue a music career that also touched upon acting or comedy, as she both sang and performed in vaudeville styled routines. But it was her singing which made her a rising attraction by 1948 in the vast network of New Orleans clubs and it was around this time when she married Jack Scott, the guitarist for Paul Gayten who wrote and arranged as well.

Ironically though it wouldn’t be Gayten who’d precipitate her recording career, for he already had one female vocalist for his live shows, Annie Laurie, who’d scored hits with him backing her. Gayten and Laurie were also now recording for a fairly new label, Regal Records, after its owners David and Jules Braun, lost their original company, DeLuxe, to rival Syd Nathan who snatched it up in a grab for their impressive roster of talent. As a result Regal was just getting its feet under them and though by the fall of 1949 Gayten had brought them some new talent – Larry Darnell most impressively – he and Regal were beaten to the punch when it came to signing Jewel King, as Imperial Records out of Los Angeles was moving in on the New Orleans scene after hiring Dave Bartholomew to scout and produce for them.

King became the second of Bartholomew’s acquisitions, recording her at his first studio date for the label, a double session with Tommy Ridgley who got the first New Orleans-based release on Imperial. But it was King’s debut which proved to be the winner, soaring up the charts, landing in the Top Ten across the country and establishing the company – and Bartholomew’s production sound – as a vital player in rock right off the bat.

But King’s career was quickly derailed when her husband, worried that Imperial wasn’t paying her enough – and perhaps envious of Bartholomew’s role in advancing her career – demanded that he be the one to go on the road for a huge West Coast tour in early 1950 as her bandleader, relegating Bartholomew to a supporting role. When this was rejected out of hand King backed out of the tour despite being the headliner and subsequently Imperial’s third recent signee, Fats Domino, was bumped up on the bill while Ridgley sang her big hit on the road and as a result her days as a star were over almost before they began.

Bartholomew managed to convince her to do another session and while the records were good the lack of exposure didn’t help her cause and with Domino’s immediate success in her wake he became the focal point of Imperial’s marketing and King drifted away. Following one more session in 1952 she and Scott had moved to Texas by mid-decade, appearing at small clubs without new records to push and before long even those gigs dried and thus she remains merely a footnote in the far larger stories of the other figures who propelled Imperial to new heights.

King passed away at the age of 87 in 1997 back in Texas where she began, but for a brief moment she had the chance to be the face of rock ‘n’ roll in New Orleans.
JEWEL KING DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

3 x 7 = 21
(Imperial 5055; December, 1949)
One of the great debuts in rock history, known more today for Dave Bartholomew’s start as a top-notch producer than King’s short-lived role as a star, but both are absolutely perfect on this with the rolling groove of the music matched by King’s sassy confident vocals. (9)

(Imperial 5055; December, 1949)
A discomforting song whose lyrics hit too close to home for King as she’s further hindered by having to rein in her delivery to suit the draggy tempo leaving a record that is far too maudlin sounding for its own good. (3)