Ernie K-Doe, the R&B; singer who became a fixture on the nightclub circuit of his native New Orleans and earned fleeting national attention with the No. 1 hit “Mother-in-Law” in 1961, died Thursday. He was 65.
K-Doe was admitted to University Hospital in the Louisiana city in grim condition Friday from “various internal illnesses” and lapsed into a coma three days before his death, a hospital spokesman said.
Born Ernest Kador Jr., the ninth of 11 children and son of a Baptist minister, his childhood church performances shaped his famous stage fervor. His sound also was influenced through the years by the music of Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles and Bobby Bland.
K-Doe’s shining moment came in May 1961, when “Mother-in-Law” replaced Del Shannon’s “Runaway” as the No. 1 song on the U.S. pop charts. Celebrated producer Allen Toussaint wrote and produced the recording of the hit and also played the song’s signature New Orleans gospel piano. The lyrics are an extended, winking insult at the title relative, who was “sent from down below” and was so awful “Satan should be her name.”
His hit arrived during the New Orleans R&B; glory days in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, when the city was a hub for Fats Domino, Little Richard, the Dixie Cups and Neville Brothers.
K-Doe told the Chicago Tribune once that it “wasn’t a hard song to sing because my mother-in-law was staying at my house. I was married 19 years and it was 19 years of pure sorrow. . . . Oooh, she was lowdown.”
K-Doe never found his way back into the Top 40. He did get attention for such songs as “Te-Ta-Te-Ta-Ta,” “I Cried My Last Tear” and “A Certain Girl,” and the latter would become a minor hit in Britain when it was covered by the Yardbirds.
After “Mother-in-Law” faded, the singer was “living in an alcoholic haze for years,” according to a biography on his official Web site, but in recent years he embraced sobriety and sought a career revival.
He began appearing as a infrequent New Orleans radio personality in the 1980s, and in 1994 he opened the Mother-in-Law Lounge in the city’s Treme neighborhood. He performed on Sunday nights and, along with his wife, Antoinette K-Doe, often greeted diners.
Services are pending. The singer is survived by his wife and four children from previous marriages.