Fontella Bass, whose brassy hit “Rescue Me” (which you can hear in the video spot at left) stayed at the top of the R&B charts for four weeks in 1965 and was #4 on the Billboard Top 40 that year, died Thursday at age 72, reports the Jazz Times.
Bass was born on July 3, 1940. Gospel music was in her blood. She was the daughter of Martha Bass, a longtime member of the Clara Ward Singers, and the granddaughter of Navada Carter, also a gospel singer. She made her debut with a church choir at age 5.
In her teens, she became interested in R&B, hitching up with Little Milton’s group and marrying the band’s trumpeter, Lester Bowie. She made her solo recording debut with “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” on the Bobbin label.
Bass worked alongside both Ike and Tina Turner. Her second single, “I Love the Man” in 1963, was produced by Ike Turner. Bass and Tina Turner sang together on the duet “Poor Little Fool,” on the Vesuvius label.
“Rescue Me,” which she co-wrote and by far her biggest hit, was released by the Chess Records subsidiary Checker Records. It hit the #4 spot on the Billboard Top 40 on Oct. 23, 1965 and was one of the biggest-selling records in the label’s history. According to All Music.com, Bass never received proper credit or payment for co-writing the song, and had several fights with the record company over it.
The song has been mistaken as the work of Aretha Franklin. Though Aretha had had one top 40 record in 1961 on Columbia with “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody,” she didn’t begin her long string of Atlantic Records hits that started with “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You” until 1967.
Bass’ Billboard chart career also included two lesser hits, “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” with Bobby McClure, which pre-dated “Rescue Me” and only got to #33 in 1965, and “Recovery,” which hit #37 in 1966.
Bassist Harvey Brooks paid tribute to her on Facebook, saying, “She was a true talent! It was my pleasure to record and play with her. She will be missed.”
Sources: All Music.com, Jazz Times, “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.”
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