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Chicago Bassist/Violinist Johnny Frigo Dies at 90

Multi-instrumentalist Johnny Frigo died on July 4 at Weiss Memorial Hospital in his hometown of Chicago due to complications from a fall. Born in the city’s South Side, Frigo took up violin at a young age, but started playing bass in high school and went on to make a career as an upright and electric bassist before switching back to violin in his late 60s.

Frigo played with Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey in the 1940s, and toured in a big band led by the Marx Brothers’ Chico Marx. He served in the Coast Guard during WWII and returned to Chicago where he formed the Soft Winds Jazz Trio in 1947 with pianist Lou Carter and guitarist Herb Ellis.

Frigo co-wrote “Detour Ahead,” famously sung by Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, and “I Told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out.” He is arguably best known for his tribute to the ill-fated Cubs championship run in 1969, “Hey, Hey, Holy Mackerel.” Having continued to practice violin throughout his life, Frigo decided in the 1980s to make the professional switch from bass.

Frigo had plans to play upcoming festivals in Italy and Holland but fell in the lobby of his condo building in late June. He is survived by his wife Brittney Browne, a sister Dolly Bray, three grandchildren, and a son, Rick, who is a jazz drummer. His son Derek died in 2004.

Originally Published