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Blackwood: Elvis' rock 'n' roll cool rubbed off on Hugh Baby

POSTED: June 18, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Hugh Jarrett was quintessentially cool.

Hugh died May 31 from injuries he sustained in an auto accident in March. He had a life that had brushes with greatness. He also had his fair share of dry spells. But the stylishly hip patter that made him a star in the early days of rock ’n’ roll kept him ever cool.

Hugh was a member of the Jordanaires, the legendary gospel group that became Elvis Presley’s first backup group. Hugh was the bass singer and in Elvis’ early appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, he is always standing over Elvis’ left shoulder. He sang the “doo-wahs” and “ahhs” and did the hand claps and finger snaps.

He also appeared with the Jordanaires in two of Elvis’ early movies, “King Creole” and “Loving You.”

Hugh left the Jordanaires and got into radio in a big way. He was host of a nightly rock and roll show on

WLAC in Nashville, a 50,000-watt station that could be heard over most of the Eastern seaboard. Hugh called himself  “Hugh Baby,” a name that stuck with him the rest of his life.

He held “Hugh Baby Hops,” live events at places like bowling alleys and roller rinks where he’d come and play records. He drew such crowds that the fire marshal had to limit the number of people inside.

Hugh came to Atlanta for a job at WPLO, which at that time was a rock ‘n’ roll station. Not long after coming to Atlanta, the station switched to country and Hugh was out of the rock ‘n’ roll picture.

Years later, Hugh came to Gainesville where he had a daily show on WLBA, which was then a country station. The show before him was hosted by Joel Williams, who remembers that Hugh was often late.

“How am I doing so far?” Hugh would ask as he came through the door.

Hugh made a few regional and national television movie appearances over the years.

My favorite was a 1989 episode of “In the Heat of the Night,” where he played an ailing rich guy whose daughter, played by Mary Crosby, eventually killed him.

Hugh became the second actor to be killed off by Mary Crosby, the same woman who shot J.R. on “Dallas.”
Hugh and I got to know each other when he was host of a gospel music show on WGGA. I was doing the afternoon show with Bimbo Brewer. Hugh called me “Mr. Bubba” and I called him “Mr. Baby.”

I took Hugh to lunch several times and he told me story after story of the old days with Elvis and music and show business. Hugh was always concerned about hair. Most of his on top had left and he relied on a hairpiece.

“Is all that your real hair?” he once asked me. I told him yes. “Hang on to it for as long as you can,” he advised me.

Hugh was always hoping for a bigger comeback, but it never happened. He did get an invite to a 1997 event in Memphis marking the 20th anniversary of Elvis’ death. He sang again with the Jordanaires and got a photo with Priscilla Presley, before the plastic surgery.

In recent years, he found a radio home at WWEV, the Christian station in Cumming.

I considered him a friend and will treasure the memories. I’ve met more famous people than Hugh Jarrett, but never anyone cooler.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays.



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