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Jay Black, lead singer of pop group The Americans, dies at 82

Jay Black, lead singer of the rock group Jay and the Americans, pictured circa 1965, has died at age 82.
Michael Ochs Archives
Getty Images
Jay Black, lead singer of the rock group Jay and the Americans, pictured circa 1965, has died at age 82.

Jay Black, lead singer for the 1960s pop group Jay and the Americans, has died at the age of 82. The band announced the singer's death in a statement posted to Facebook on Saturday.

"Today, we mourn the passing of David Blatt a/k/a Jay Black and we acknowledge the great successes we had with him both as a partner and as a lead singer," the band wrote. "We shared both wonderful and very contentious times, and much like an ex-wife, we are so proud of the beautiful children we created. We'll always remember The Voice." Bandmate and the Americans vocalist Sandy Deanne told The Associated Press that Black, born David Blatt, died on Friday due to complications from pneumonia.

Black was commonly known in the 1960s as "The Voice" for his crooning, doo wop-inspired vocals. He was the second singer for Jay and the Americans, replacing Jay Traynor, changing his stage name to Jay to match the group. His last name, Blatt, was changed to Black by mistake. "I was on the Mike Douglas show," he told The Forward in 2014. "One day, Mike asked me what my last name was and I mumbled Blatt, but he heard Black. He said, 'Black?' I said yes, a little lie. But everyone loved the name. Mike Douglas died without knowing he named me."

Together Jay and the Americans recorded major hits including "Come a Little Bit Closer," "Only in America," "Cara Mia," all featuring Black's honeyed vibrato. Beyond his signature voice, Black was often known as much for his sense of humor on and off-stage. "The first clubs we played," Black told The New York Times in 1994, "if you were good, they let you live. But I had this special talent. I could make people laugh."

After the group disbanded in 1973, Black would go on to pursue a solo career, and continued to perform until 2017. He had to give up performing under the Jay and the Americans band name when he was taken to bankruptcy court in 2006, leaving the group free to reform with a new singer, but he was free to perform under the name Jay Black. "That's my legacy," he said in 2006. "It's what I leave behind when I'm gone."

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Hazel Cills is an editor at NPR Music. Before coming to NPR in 2021, Cills was a culture reporter at Jezebel, where she wrote about music and popular culture. She was also a writer for MTV News and a founding staff writer for the teen publication Rookie magazine.