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Remembering Earnest Jackson, the only artist signed to Planet Money's record label

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Our Planet Money podcast team recently became a record label solely for one artist, Earnest Jackson, and a long-lost song he recorded in the 1970s about inflation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INFLATION")

EARNEST JACKSON: (Singing) Inflation is in the nation, and it's about to put us all away.

SHAPIRO: The song ended up being in the top 1% of songs streamed on Spotify ever. Sadly, the singer and songwriter Earnest Jackson has died. NPR's Sarah Gonzalez has this tribute.

SARAH GONZALEZ, BYLINE: When we at Planet Money first got our hands on this old cassette tape with the song "Inflation" on it, it felt like we were supposed to do something with it. And then when we flew down to Baton Rouge to meet the singer and songwriter, we knew. We were going to go all in on Earnest Jackson and the song he recorded with a band called Sugar Daddy and the Gumbo Roux.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

E JACKSON: Yeah, Sugar Daddy and the Gumbo Roux.

GONZALEZ: He just had this voice - this incredible, gravelly voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

E JACKSON: A lot of people say I sound like Satchmo now, you know, even when I talk.

GONZALEZ: Earnest called everyone baby. He loved a good double entendre. He was funny and confident.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

E JACKSON: Yes, because I'm not an ugly man, if I may say so (laughter). You know what I mean?

GONZALEZ: He was truly a joy to be around, and he never stopped hoping he would find fame.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

E JACKSON: Yes, indeed, 'cause that's been my dream since I was a little boy. I've always wanted to be a superstar.

GONZALEZ: Earnest started singing at his church when he was 5 years old. By 14, he was performing in nightclubs, loving it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

E JACKSON: And I mean I used to have them jumping all on top of the tables, you know?

GONZALEZ: This was also when Earnest wrote and recorded his very first song about a girl he used to like.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUR LOVE WILL ALWAYS BE THE SAME")

E JACKSON: (Singing) Give me your love and all your time. Don't ever leave me 'cause I'll lose my mind.

GONZALEZ: This is 14-year-old Earnest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

E JACKSON: Fourteen. Yeah, 14.

GONZALEZ: And Earnest did have a real hit song once. He did a cover of an Al Green song that actually got on the official Billboard charts. So if you ever heard this song on an old jukebox...

(SOUNDBITE OF EARNEST JACKSON SONG, "LOVE AND HAPPINESS")

GONZALEZ: ...Chances are you heard Earnest's cover, not Al Green's.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE AND HAPPINESS")

E JACKSON: (Singing) Love and happiness.

GONZALEZ: But Earnest only got paid $150 one time for it. He spent 33 years waiting tables at nice restaurants, still singing wherever he could.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

E JACKSON: Yeah, I was known as the serenading waiter. I made a very good living. I raised all my children. And my family - we did pretty good at that time.

GONZALEZ: He became a grandpa and a great-grandpa and retired. And we became a record label to see if we could give Earnest a little taste of what he'd always dreamed of - a little bit of fame. And his song did get listened to all over the world - Nigeria, Brazil, Norway, Japan. And releasing his "Inflation" song led to some new opportunities for Earnest. The animated TV show "Bob's Burgers" cast Earnest Jackson as the voice of a singer from the '70s. Earnest got to go back into a recording studio, which is what he really, really wanted, to record a new song called "Gas In My Car."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GAS IN MY CAR")

E JACKSON: (Singing) Because you know if there's gas in my car, I'm going to get to you no matter where you are.

GONZALEZ: On December 6, a couple weeks after this song and TV episode came out, Earnest Jackson passed away unexpectedly. He was 75. One of his kids, Corey, called to tell us.

COREY JACKSON: The most thing I'm going to miss about my dad is his smile. You know, he had a smile that could light up a room.

GONZALEZ: He really did. And it was such an honor for us to be a part of Earnest Jackson's final years.

C JACKSON: Oh, man. He was in such good spirits, man. He was so happy about that. And he would not stop playing "Inflation."

GONZALEZ: We will leave you the way we know Earnest Jackson would like to go out - singing. This is his take on one of his favorite songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

E JACKSON: (Singing) Oh, it's been a long, a long time coming, but I knew a change had to come. Oh, yes, it did.

GONZALEZ: Sarah Gonzalez, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOPY'S "MEDITATION 22") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah Gonzalez
Sarah Gonzalez is a host and reporter with Planet Money, NPR's award-winning podcast that finds creative, entertaining ways to make sense of the big, complicated forces that move our economy. She joined the team in April 2018.