Fontella Bass, soul and gospel singer was 72

fontella-bass-record.jpgFontella Bass, a church choir singer in St. Louis who recorded as a soul singer for Chess Records and had a hit with "Rescue Me" in 1965, died Wednesday at age 72 in her hometown. She suffered a heart attack three weeks ago. "Rescue Me" was sometimes called the most famous song that Aretha Franklin didn't sing. From the Associated Press story on Bass:

Her interest turned from gospel to R&B when she was a teenager and she began her professional career at the Showboat Club in north St. Louis at age 17. She eventually auditioned for Chess Records and landed a recording contract, first as a duet artist. Her duet with Bobby McClure, "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing," reached No. 5 on the R&B charts and No. 33 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1965.


She co-wrote and later that year recorded "Rescue Me," reaching No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 4 on the Billboard pop singles chart. Bass' powerful voice bore a striking resemblance to that of Aretha Franklin, who often is misidentified as the singer of that chart-topping hit.

Bass had a few other modest hits but by her own accounts developed a reputation as a troublemaker because she demanded more artistic control, and more money for her songs. She haggled over royalty rights to "Rescue Me" for years before reaching a settlement in the late 1980s, Mitchell said. She sued American Express over the use of "Rescue Me" in a commercial, settling for an undisclosed amount in 1993.

"Rescue Me" has been covered by many top artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Melissa Manchester and Pat Benatar. Franklin eventually sang a form of it too — as "Deliver Me" in a Pizza Hut TV ad in 1991.

Bass' 1995 gospel album, "No Ways Tired," earned a Grammy nomination.

In the video below, Bass lip-synchs "Rescue Me" on the Oct. 30, 1965 "Hollywood a Go Go" amid the rhythmic stylings of the short-lived KHJ show's Gazzarri Dancers. Who can spot the long-ago Gazzarri Dancer in Gary Leonard's King Eddy Saloon photo for LA Observed today?


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Recent Obituaries stories on LA Observed:
Patti Page, one of top selling singers ever was 85
Year-end obits: Catherine O'Neill, Mark Hundahl, Lee Dorman
Harry Carey, Jr., character actor for John Ford was 91
Fontella Bass, soul and gospel singer was 72
Jack Klugman, last of the 12 angry men was 90

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