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fontella bass

Fontella Bass

b. Fontella Marie Bass, 3rd July 1940, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.

d. 26th December 2012, Westchester House Nursing Home, St. Louis County, Chesterfield, Missouri, U.S.A.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Fontella was the daughter of the gospel vocalist, Martha Bass (of the Clara Ward Singers).

Spending much of her early life singing in the local church, and joining tours with her mother’s group, she sang Gospel up until her mid teens.

She then showed an interest in performing more secular material.

Fontella sang at the Showboat Club near Chain of Rocks, Missouri, later In 1961, she auditioned for the Leon Claxton carnival show.

This led to interest from the likes of Little Milton and his bandleader Oliver Sain who hired her to back Little Milton on piano for concerts and recording.

She later became the vocalist for the ensemble.

When the two band leaders went their separate ways, Fontella stayed with Oliver Sain.

Fontella Bass

Oliver recruited Bobby McClure for his band, which were titled The Oliver Sain Soul Revue featuring Fontella and Bobby McClure.

During this period, Fontella met and later married the jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie.

She then left the Oliver Sain band and signed to the Chess Records imprint.

Fontella continued to duet with Bobby McClure at the label, releasing in 1965, ‘Don't Mess Up a Good Thing’, which was followed bu ‘You'll Miss Me (When I'm Gone)’.

Following a peroid of touring, Fontella began working with several artists, including the drummer Maurice White, the bassist Louis Satterfield and the saxophonist Gene Barge.

The New LookArt Ensemble

the 'new' look fontella bass - 1965 / art ensemble of chicago feat. fontella bass - 1971

In late 1965, the group released ‘Rescue Me’ in 1965, reaching number 4 on the pop charts, selling over one million copies.

Fontella followed up the massive hit single with 'Recovery', which reached number 13 (R&B) and number 37 (pop) in 1966.

Further releases followed, including 'I Can't Rest' b/w 'I Surrender' and 'You'll Never Know'.

A parent album, entitled 'The New Look', was released after which Fontella left Chess in 1967.

FreeRoot To The Source

free - 1972 / from root to the source - 1980

She later disclosed some alleged irregularities regarding the payment of royalties on 'Rescue Me'.

Fontella and Lester Bowie left America and relocated to Paris in 1969.

In Paris she recorded a couple of albums with the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

These were 'Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass' and 'Les Stances a Sophie', both released in 1970.

Fontella also recorded on her husband's album material, namely his albums 'The Great Pretender' (in 1981) and 'All the Magic' (in 1982).

no ways tired - 1995 / now that i found a good thing - 1996

She moved from label to label in the following years, recording a gospel album with her mother and brother David Peaston, entitled 'From The Root To The Source'.

These years saw many legal issues regarding the ongoing rights to 'Rescue Me', some of which bore fruit for the singer.

TravellinFontella BassFontella Bass

travellin' - 2001

In 2001, further interest in Fontella, saw the release of 'Soul Celebration. Soul Spectacular' recorded live at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh that year.

Fontella received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in the Loop in May 2000.

Following a series of strokes (going back to) 2005, Fontella died in December 2012 at a St. Louis hospital from complications of a heart attack suffered earlier that month.

Her brother, David Peaston, passed away earlier the same year.

Real Player


as Fontella Bass:

The New Look (Checker/Chess Records 1966)

Les Stances: A Sophie Film Soundtrack (1970)

Free (Paula/Mojo Records 1972)

with Martha Bass, David Peaston:

From The Root To The Source (Soul Note Records 1980)

as Fontella Bass:

No Ways Tired (Nonesuch Records 1995)

Now That I Found a Good Thing (Jewel Records 1996)

Travelin' (Justin Time Records 2001)

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