Did Johnny Ace really shoot himself?

Ace, famous for his smooth baritone and the single “Pledging My Love,” was a popular ballad singer in the early ’50s, and routinely jammed on piano with B.B. King. On Christmas Day, 1954, he died of a gunshot wound backstage at Houston’s City Auditorium between sets of a show with Big Mama Thornton. The coroner’s verdict was Russian roulette, but some people speculate that Ace was shot by Don Robey, owner of Duke Records, in an effort to end contract renegotiations. (Robey was a music-world thug who was known for pulling guns during business transactions.) The more likely story, corroborated by several eyewitnesses: although Ace wasn’t playing Russian roulette, he was horsing around with his own gun and accidentally shot himself–or as a Houston homicide detective on the scene that night put it, he died of “pistolitis.”

(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)