Performer had hit in 1959 with 'Running Bear'

Singer Johnny Preston, whose “Running Bear” was a No. 1 U.S. hit in 1959, died March 4 in Beaumont, Texas. He was 71.

Preston had undergone heart bypass surgery late last year and had suffered ongoing heart problems, his son Scott told the Associated Press.

Born John Preston Courville in Port Arthur, Texas, Preston was discovered at the Twilight Club in Port Neches by disc jockey and performer J.P. Richardson, aka the Big Bopper.

“Running Bear” topped the chart in late 1959, 10 months after songwriter Richardson was killed in an Iowa plane crash with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. Put over by pow-wow styled drumming, the tale of the tragic romance between the titular brave and “lovely Indian maid” Little White Dove held the No. 1 slot for three weeks.

Preston’s other hits included the No. 7 1960 single “Cradle of Love”; he also charted with “Feel So Fine” (a remake of Shirley & Lee’s 1955 single “Feel So Good”) and a cover of Little Willie John’s “Leave My Kitten Alone.”

He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.

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