For many years polio (poliomyelitis) was a dreaded specter that hovered over parents with small children, and the very thought of it scared a lot of families beyond reason. I can remember being warned about everything from touching green flies to putting my mouth on public drinking fountains, although I’m not sure how well I heeded the advice.
An uncle of mine had polio as a boy and remained physically affected for his entire life, although he did cope very well with his limitations. The same could certainly be said about Ray Peterson, a Texas-born singer who overcame childhood polio and for a few years in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s became a very popular music star.
You might even say that having polio sort of started the whole thing for Peterson, who first began entertaining by appearing in front of his fellow patients at a treatment facility. As he grew to adulthood, he began to make appearances in local clubs and eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream. He managed to attract enough attention to get a recording contract, and began to find some success with teen ballads such as “Let’s Try Romance” and “Goodnight My Love,” followed by an even better seller, “The Wonder of You.”
However, he still hadn’t cracked the top ten on the charts — the real measure of popularity for burgeoning pop singers. That milestone arrived in 1960, when he recorded “Tell Laura I Love Her,” a slightly sappy teenage-tragedy song that hit the mark with the public — or at least the ones who bought records. The success of the song also allowed him to found his own record label, Dune.
Enlisting the aid of young producer Phil Spector, he followed up with another big hit, “Corinna, Corinna,” (video below) and also had a good seller with “Missing You.” But although his company continued to flourish for a while, producing good sellers such as Curtis Lee’s “Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” Ray Peterson the singer began to fade from the pop music scene.
Ray and his music enjoyed a brief revival later in the decade, but even though he moved to another record label and even tried to lean a little more toward the country music side, he was never able to regain his momentum. Over the next couple of decades he made occasional forays into performing, but most of his time was spent as a baptist minister in Tennessee, where he died in 2005.