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Fontella Bass, R&B Hitmaker Who Stepped into Jazz, Blues & Gospel, Dies at 72

“Rescue Me” singer worked with trumpeter husband Lester Bowie, Art Ensemble

Fontella Bass

Fontella Bass, a vocalist whose 1965 soul hit “Rescue Me” became a staple of the genre, died yesterday, Dec. 26, of complications following a heart attack earlier this month. She was 72 and lived in St. Louis. In addition to her classic hit, Bass often crossed genres during her career, working within gospel, blues and jazz. She collaborated on numerous projects with her late husband, the trumpeter Lester Bowie, and recorded with the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Born in St. Louis in 1940, the daughter of gospel singer Martha Bass, Fontella Bass learned to play piano and sing during her childhood. She turned professional at 17 and was hired to play piano behind blues singer Little Milton; she was later given her own vocal spot in his show and soon began recording for local St. Louis labels.

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