By Bob Vincent
From Los Angeles Times
Pioneering rhythm-and-blues singer, songwriter, drummer, bandleader and disc jockey Johnny Otis made the kind of conscious life choice early on that few people have the inclination, or circumstance, to carry out.
Born white, the son of Greek immigrant parents, and raised in a predominantly black neighborhood in Northern California in the 1920s, Otis decided as a youth that he'd rather be black.
The choice put him on a path to a life in music during which he created the sensually pulsing 1958 hit "Willie and the Hand Jive." It also gave him a deep connection to black culture that helped him discover such future stars of R&B and rock as Etta James, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard and Little Esther Phillips.
"Yes, I chose," Otis told The Times in 1979, "because despite all the hardships, there's a wonderful richness in black culture that I prefer..."