Jay Black, the best-known lead singer of the 60’s pop group, Jay and the Americans is dead at age 82. Born David Blatt, in Astoria Queens, he adopted the name Jay Black when he took over from Jay Traynor, the original lead vocalist of the group, after Traynor had quit to go solo. It was with Black that the group had its greatest success starting with “Only in America,” which peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1963. That was followed the next year by “Come a Little Bit Closer,” which rose to No. 3, and “Let’s Lock the Door (and Throw Away the Key),” which hit No. 11. In 1965, their version of “Some Enchanted Evening,” from the musical “South Pacific,” peaked at No. 13. Their success was incredible given the times. With the arrival of the Beatles in 1964, followed shortly by a host of British wave bands, including the Rolling Stones, many American groups were put on the scrap heap. Even Elvis Presley saw his hits decline in number. But Jay and the Americans continued to chart.
The song that most people remember was Jay’s soaring solo on “Cara Mia,” a song that was co-written by Montovani and recorded by British singer David Whitfield in the 1950’s. The song went to number four on the Billboard charts. Jay alternated from his powerful baritone to falsetto in the song which was arranged by Artie Ripp for United Artists. His three-octave range attracted the attention of Both Frank Sinatra and Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons, both of whom warned Black that the way he was singing could damage his voice, The New York Times quotes Sinatra saying to Black in 1977,“So you’re the ‘Cara, Mia’ guy? …You better lower your key or you’re going to lose your voice.”
The group split in the 1970s after the hits stopped. Black, who had been a heavy gambler since his teens, went bankrupt in 2005, owing $500,000 in back taxes. To partially settle his debts, the rights to the use of the “Jay and the Americans” name was auctioned off for $100,000 and two of Black’s former bandmates reformed the group with yet another Jay.
In 1992 when crime lord John Gotti went on trial. Black was one of 11 people given passes by the Gotti lawyers to sit in on the trial. He was in the courtroom as turncoat mobster Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano testified about Gotti-ordered murders. “From what I heard, I think they should put him (Gravano) in a cell with (convicted serial killer) Jeffrey Dahmer,” Black said of the informer. Jay explained he used to live near Gotti in Queens and had sung at the weddings of Gotti’s children. “I’ve known him for about 25 years,” Black said. “I wanted to show my support.”
In more recent years, Jay Black performed under his own name at casinos and other rock revival venues and appeared on several PBS rock specials. He last performed in 2017. His family said he died of complications of pneumonia and that he had also suffered from dementia.