Ray Hildebrand, who topped the pop charts in the 1960s as half of the duo Paul & Paula, died Friday in Kansas City at age 82. No cause of death has been given.
Paul & Paula reached No. 1 in 1963 with the breakout smash “Hey Paula,” written by Hildebrand himself and performed in collaboration with duet partner Jill Jackson under their mutual nom de plume. The song was released in 1962 and reached the peak of two Billboard charts — the Hot 100 and the Hot R&B Singles chart — in February of the following year.
Their run of success was a short one, as all four of the songs Paul & Paula pushed into the Hot 100 landed there during the calendar year 1963. The follow-up to “Hey Paula,” “Young Lovers,” was their only other top 10 hit, reaching No. 6. They released three albums, in total, all over a compact eight-month period in 1963.
The duo, were partners only in music, not romance; Jackson was the niece of the man who ran the boarding house where Hildebrand lived as a college student. They went their separate ways in 1965, but sporadically released further singles as late as 1970, and occasionally re-teamed at oldies shows or special events into the 21st century.
Hildebrand went on to have a different kind of career in the seminal days of contemporary Christian music, recording an album titled “He’s Everything to Me” in 1967 and songs including “Say I Do” and “Anybody Here Wanna Live Forever?” In the ’80s, he formed a CCM duo called Land & Hildebrand with Paul Land, doing faith-based comedy as well as music.
Born in Joshua, Texas in 1940, Hildebrand was attending Howard Payne College when he met Jackson. They initially dubbed themselves Ray & Jill, sensibly enough. But the name change became inevitable after they recorded Hildebrand’s composition “Hey Paula” and it began to take off. He had been inspired to write it by a friend whose fiancee’s name was Paula.
“Hey Paula” spent the entire month of February 1963 at No. 1 on the Hot 100. They soon joined Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars tour.
Aside from their smash hit, the duo’s catalog has not been extensively mined. None of the three albums they recorded for Philips — “Paul & Paula Sing for Young Lovers,” “We”ll Go Together” and the very good Christmas album “Holiday for Teens” — has ever officially been issued on CD in the U.S.
In 2012, the two singers reunited to hold hands and sing their hit at their former college, now called Howard Payne University.
Hildebrand went on Ray Stevens’ cable show in 2021 to sing “Hey Paula,” joined by three female vocalists (see video, below). He did not shy away from talking about the hit that established him; his website advertises a memoir titled “The Hey Paula Story.”
The singer continued to express his Christian faith throughout his life. On his website, he wrote of his shift into gospel music, saying, “I was tired of chasing around the world after something that I wasn’t even sure that I wanted. I had recorded a hit album, but the royalties were slipping off. I couldn’t see devoting my life to dirty jokes and nightclubs. What for? That’s when I started reading the Bible again. I had been raised in a Christian family, but I had never really asked the real questions about life or my faith. That’s when I realized the Good Lord was trying to teach me something.”
Hildebrand was preceded in death by his wife, Judy Hendricks, whom he wed in 1964, and is survived by a daughter, Heidi Sterling, and son, Mike Hildebrand.
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