Fontella Bass

Fontella Bass was born on this date in 1940. She was a Black singer and entertainer.

Fontella Bass was born in St. Louise, MO, as the daughter of gospel singer Martha Bass (of the Clara Ward Singers), and the granddaughter of Nevada Carter. She was exposed to music at an early age, at six, she was singing in her church’s choir. Her voice and musical talents were raised in the Black Church. As a teenager, Bass was attracted by more secular music. Throughout high school, she began singing R&B songs at local contests and fairs, and her uncles would sneak her out to Blues clubs where she would often get up and sing with the performers.

Bass played piano and sang with R&B stars Little Milton and Oliver Sain, and launched her solo career in 1965 with the song “Rescue Me,” a #1 R&B and #4 pop hit.

By the end of the 1960s, she had moved to Paris with her husband, jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie. During that time, apart from solo albums, she also worked with The Art Ensemble of Chicago (her husband’s jazz group) and with the gospel group From The Root To The Source. Bass returned to St. Louis in 1972 to raise her family.

Always sharing her musical gift in local churches, she went on to perform internationally and at Carnegie Hall. Two albums, 1995s Grammy-nominated “No Ways Tired” and 1999s “Speaking in Tongues” showcase the extraordinary talents of Fontella Bass.

In the 2000s, she toured Europe with her younger brother David Peaston until she fell ill. For her last years, she had to struggle due to her deteriorating health. In May 2000, Bass received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Bass survived breast cancer, a series of strokes beginning in 2005, and also had a leg amputated.

On December 26, 2012, she died at a St. Louis hospital from complications of a heart attack suffered earlier in the month; she was 72. She was survived by four children.

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