Sonji 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….