Songwriter Otis Blackwell, whose tunes “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Great Balls of Fire” among many others became smash hits for Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, died Monday May 6 in Nashville, Tenn. He was 70 and had been ill for quite some time after suffering a stroke in 1991.
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member from Brooklyn launched his writing career by selling six songs for $150 after starting out as a pianist and singer. He recorded one with a drummer playing on a cardboard box.
The song “Don’t Be Cruel” was picked up by Presley and went to No. 1 on the charts in 1956. The following year, another Blackwell song, “All Shook Up,” also became a Presley hit, as did “One Broken Heart For Sale” and “Return to Sender.”
Other hit songs included “Hey Little Girl” for Dee Clark and “Breathless” and “Great Balls of Fire” for Lewis.
Blackwell’s song “Fever,” which he wrote under a pseudonym but never explained why, became a signature tune for Peggy Lee.
In the late 1970s, Blackwell recorded albums “These Are My Songs” and “Singin’ the Blues.” In all, he wrote almost 1,000 songs, including a number of top-selling rock tunes recorded by such notables as James Taylor and others.