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 born in Texas but moved to New Orleans after getting out of school when she began 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 in the vast network of New Orleans clubs and she got her first chance in the studio for DeLuxe Records in 1948, working with Dave Bartholomew on one of his earliest forays into taking more of an overseer role, though none of the songs they recorded were deemed releasable. She went back to singing in 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. but rather a newcomer to the rock field, Imperial Records out of Los Angeles, who in late 1949 were moving in on the New Orleans scene after hiring Bartholomew to scout and produce for them. Having already worked with her once, and apparently thinking she still had potential, she was the second singer after Tommy Ridgley that he recruited for his first session as an official producer.

Though Ridgley got honor of having the first New Orleans-based release on Imperial, 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, surely concerned about her being tempted by the usual allures of the road (IE. other men) tried to keep a tight rein on her, using the excuse that Imperial wasn’t paying her enough and suggesting Bartholomew’s band wasn’t good enough for her, 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 by the company 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 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)

(Imperial 5061; February, 1950)
A well-conceived song to further establish the connection with the younger rock audience, aided immeasurably by Dave Bartholomew’s arrangement and first rate band, but King more than holds her own, delivering the conflicting emotions it requires with unerring precision. (7)

(Imperial 5061; February, 1950)
An intriguing record since it was written by her husband Jack Scott, the source of her career derailment, but King excels with this quirky song as well, shifting her attitude to match the shifts between the sly speaking parts and the sultry singing required. (7)

(Mercury 8179; May, 1950)
As co-writer with Jack Scott… for Theard Johnson.

(Imperial 5076; May, 1950)
A well-written song by her husband Jack Scott which finds King turning the tables on “his” infidelities in the story with a strong attitude and confident delivery, held back ever so slightly by some questionable – though not fatal – arranging choices. (6)

(Imperial 5076; May, 1950)
While the arrangement is a little too sparse for its own good, King herself continues to impress as a vocalist – and for the first time as the lone songwriter of her material – with a song that’s at times almost too powerful in its searing intensity. (5)

(Imperial 5087; July, 1950)
Another stellar performance by King whose vocal choices are flawless, choosing nuance over directness to reveal the emotional tumult she’s been put through while the band offers respectful but subdued support behind her. (6)

(Imperial 5087; July, 1950)
An innovative perspective and quirky reading thanks to King’s lyrical construct and her blissfully flighty vocals make this another endearing record, more of a look at her persona than the guy she’s singing about, all while Bartholomew’s crew provides solid low-key support. (6)