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Fontella Bass has died


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December 27, 2012

Fontella Bass, 72, Singer of Rescue Me, Is Dead




Fontella Bass, the singer whose 1965 hit Rescue Me was an indelible example of the decades finest pop-soul, died on Wednesday in St. Louis. She was 72.


The cause was complications of a recent heart attack, her daughter Neuka Mitchell said.


Ms. Bass was born in St. Louis on Feb. 3, 1940, and learned gospel at the side of her mother, Martha Bass, a member of one of the eras major traditional gospel groups, the Ward Singers. From a young age she served as her mothers pianist, but eventually, as an adolescent, got the itch to sing secular music. By the early 1960s she was playing with Little Milton, a blues guitarist and singer with links to the Chess label in Chicago.


After some early recordings with Little Miltons Bobbin label in St. Louis, she joined Chess and released her first records on its Checker subsidiary in early 1965. The first two, Dont Mess Up a Good Thing and Youll Miss Me (When Im Gone), duets with Bobby McClure, had modest success on the rhythm-and-blues charts. But her career was made by Rescue Me, released later that year.


Driven by a bubbly bass line, it featured Ms. Basss high-spirited voice in wholesomely amorous lyrics like Come on and take my hand/Come on, baby, and be my man, as well as some call-and-response moans that Ms. Bass later said resulted from a studio accident.


When we were recording that, I forgot some of the words, she told The New York Times in 1989. Back then, you didnt stop while the tape was running, and I remembered from the church what to do if you forget the words. I sang, Ummm, ummm, ummm, and it worked out just fine.


A major crossover hit, the song reached No. 4 on Billboards pop chart and has remained a staple on oldies radio, movie soundtracks and television commercials; Aretha Franklin sang a version of it for a Pizza Hut ad in the early 90s (as Deliver Me).


Ms. Bass recorded several follow-up singles for Checker, but all fell short of the popularity of Rescue Me, and she then veered toward the avant-garde jazz of her husband, Lester Bowie , the trumpeter of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. She went with the group to Paris at the turn of the 1970s and recorded with it there, but soon returned to the United States.


A 1972 solo album, Free, was another commercial disappointment, and Ms. Bass turned to raising her four children with Mr. Bowie. Besides Ms. Mitchell, they include another daughter, JuLene Coney, and two sons, Larry Stevenson and Bahnamous Bowie. They all survive her, along with 10 grandchildren.


Although her pop career had largely wound down, she continued to sing occasionally on Mr. Bowies records and to perform gospel with her mother and her half-brother, David Peaston. Her marriage to Mr. Bowie ended in divorce, and he died in 1999. Mr. Peaston died in February.


Ms. Bass had long maintained that she helped write Rescue Me and was deprived of proper credit and songwriting royalties. By 1990, she said, she was living in near-poverty when her career turned around after she heard Rescue Me used in an American Express commercial, and she began to press for remuneration for her work. She sued American Express in 1993, and she said she received a significant settlement.


In 1995 she released No Ways Tired, which was nominated for a Grammy for best traditional soul gospel album. Her subsequent releases included Travellin in 2001 and All That You Give, a collaboration with the British electronic group the Cinematic Orchestra, in 2002.


She rescued herself, she said, when she began to stand up for her rights as an artist.


It was as if the Lord had stepped right into my world, she told Newsweek in 1995. I looked around and got back my royalties. I started to go to church every Sunday. And thats what saved me.



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Sad news, she was a great one. A friend of mine worked on one of her albums, and has some wonderful stories.


Two of my favorite tunes that feature her:





Turn up the speaker

Hop, flop, squawk

It's a keeper

-Captain Beefheart, Ice Cream for Crow

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RIP for a great singer, and a great thanx to Cinematic Orchestra for bringing her to the forefront for younger audience. I remember an interview by Cinematic Orchestra's founder about this particular recording of "Revolution". He travelled to the USA to record her with his laptop and mic (i think it was Saint Louis, but i might be wrong) and he was so enchanted by her voice.
Be grateful for what you've got - a Nord, a laptop and two hands
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