R.I.P. Fontella Bass

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July 3, 1940-December 26, 2012

Fontella Bass was born in St. Louis and learned gospel from her mother, Martha Bass, a member of the Ward Singers. She played piano for her mother but eventually 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 early recordings with Little Milton’s Bobbin label in St. Louis, she joined Chess and released her first records on its Checker subsidiary in early 1965. She had modest success on the R&B charts with a couple Bobby McClure duets, but her career was made by “Rescue Me,” released later that year.

A major crossover hit, the song reached No. 4 on Billboard’s pop chart and has remained a staple on oldies radio, movie soundtracks and television commercials.

Following a 1993 settlement from American Express for unpaid royalties, she said that she “rescued herself” when she began to stand up for her rights as an artist.

[Edited from full NY Times obituary …]

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