Soul Singer Fontella Bass Dies

12/28/2012, 10:57 a.m.

Fontella Bass, the singer whose 1965 hit "Rescue Me" exemplified the decade's finest pop-soul, has died. She was 72.

Bass, an older sibling of singer David Peaston who died in February, passed on Wednesday at her home in St. Louis, Mo., following complications of a recent heart attack, according to her daughter Neuka Mitchell.

Bass was born in St. Louis on July 3, 1940, and learned gospel at the side of her mother, Martha Bass, a member of one of the era's major traditional gospel groups, the Ward Singers. From a young age she served as her mother's 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 Milton's Bobbin label in St. Louis, she joined Chess and released her first records on its Checker subsidiary in early 1965. The first two, "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing" and "You'll Miss Me (When I'm 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 Bass's 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 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 didn't 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 Billboard's 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").

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 Bass turned to raising her four children with Mr. Bowie. Beside Mitchell, they include another daughter, Ju'Lene Coney, and two sons, Larry Stevenson and Bahnamous Bowie. They all survive her, along with 10 grandchildren.

Source: The Huffington Post