Cassius and Sonji Clay: Love and Boxing

sonji_claycassius_claySonji Clay and Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay), circa 1965.  Awwwwww.  Note his puppy dog gaze…

Here in Chicago (back in the mid-60s), Cassius was flirting with the Black Muslims, superstardom and love (with a local singer named Sonji)…. According to Ali’s one-time doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, “[Ali's first Wife,] Sonji was a pert, very pretty gal. She had a sister who was even better than her, with an outrageous Anita Ekberg body to go with her face. But she was too much woman for the boy-wonder Clay. He was still looking for a high-school romance. Kissing and petting, going to the movies and eating ice cream.” They were married in 1964, 41 days after they met.  By January 1966, they were divorced.  In a 2003 Observer Sport Monthly article, Pacheco continues, “As Ali went to the temple, and as his enchantment with [her] waned, Sonji saw the handwriting on the wall. She was in no place to make deals and demands with the Muslim muscle offering a harsher and more ‘permanent’ deal. Sonji split, with some cash, her jewels – and her life”.    

But it was a wild (if short) ride for the nightclub singer and the boxer-who-would-be-king.

Below, Sonji Clay’s version of “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face”, a local Chicago cut. It’s a mid-sixties sweetheart of a record arranged by the mighty, mighty James Mack. Swoon….

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About ayanacontreras

i love the transportive powers of sound. i am a radio host/producer, DJ, Sound designer, 45rpm collector, and art lover living in the city of wind. View all posts by ayanacontreras

7 responses to “Cassius and Sonji Clay: Love and Boxing

  • Love and Boxing Video

    [...] and Boxing Collected by ayanacontreras Mar 23, 2009 from darkjive.wordpress.com // Event.onDOMReady(function() { // sizeText($(‘video_title’), 475); // }) collect this [...]

  • Don

    I remember the song by Sonji Clay very well . I thought the song was very nicely done although her vocal talent was somewhat lacking in that he should have taken her time with the song . It seems as if she was in a hurry to lay her track down . The band however, was very good .Excellent studio work . The bass guitar carried the whole recording session in my opinion . Who ever the musicians were , they were true professionals . The recording was infact a regional hit . I don’t know how well it did on the soul charts . But I do know the record did not crossover . ” I can’t wait ” was also recorded by Baby Washington and Dusty Springfield .

  • ayanacontreras

    Hi, Don. I agree with you about the band being great, I think the groove makes the record. I play the song on occasion on my DJ gigs around town. Always gets a good response. Thanks for your comment.

    • Don

      Hello all, Since my last post I have been told by a couple of people that this song ,” I can’t waite( until I see my baby’s face)” was something of an R&B classic . Because not only did the two singers I named above recorded the song , it was also recorded by Aretha Franklin ( on her album ” Running out of Fools “), Dee Dee Warrick ,Dionne Warrick ( on her album “then came you ” } and several other Artist as well . I did however, get to listen to Aretha Franklin’s version of the song (also nicely done ) and think that out of all the singers , Dee Dee Warrick’s version was the most soulful and mellow of them all . Again the band carried Sonji through this session track but nicely done aswell . Sonji’s version of the song is without a doubt a sentimental favorite of mine considering the urban atmosphere of Chicago during the Spring of 1970 .

  • THE PENGUIN

    it’s a favorite for me too, don. but i think it’s mainly because of the backstory (the Ali connection, the local angle). I knew about some of the versions, but not that many. wow

  • Sheri

    Sonji was a beautiful, kind and vibrant woman. She was friends with my mother when they both lived on South Shore Drive. She dressed beautifully and was absolutely gorgeous! She had loved Cassius but said nobody was going to tell her what to do and she was too young to roll over and die. Besides, she’d say, I’m not going to wear a potato sack! She was into fashion and had the body to wear clothes well. She was funny and fully her own woman. I believe she was doing some modeling and had just recorded “Nobody” when I met her. I have never forgotten the song and she sang it very nicely-pert and lively-just what the song called for. I thought for sure it would be a hit song! She gave us a 45 and I fell in love with the song. “Nobody, Nobody, Nobody loves you like I do… not like I do”. Think I’ll see if it’s on Youtube now!

  • boxing

    An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment. I do believe that you should publish more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally folks don’t speak about such subjects. To the next! Kind regards!!

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