Vintage Vinyl co-owner and St. Louis musician Tom "Papa" Ray calls singer Fontella Bass "the most notable female artist from St. Louis of the past 50 years."
It's silly to even think about refuting that.
Ms. Bass, 72, was best known for the million-selling song she sang and co-wrote, the often-covered "Rescue Me." Cher, Diana Ross, Melissa Manchester and Linda Ronstadt were just some of the acts to sing "Rescue Me."
Ms. Bass also had a contract with the storied Chess Records and sang duets with Bobby McClure including "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing." She also worked with Oliver Sain and Little Milton.
Ms. Bass died Dec. 26, 2012, at Westchester House nursing home in Chesterfield after suffering a heart attack on Dec. 2 and multiple strokes since 2005, her family said.
She came from a musical family that included her mother, famed gospel singer Martha Bass, who died in 1998 and her brother R&B singer David Peaston, died in February.
Ms. Bass was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame on May 21, 2000.
Says blues singer Marsha Evans, heavily influenced by Ms. Bass: "She helped put St. Louis on the map, but I don't think St. Louis really appreciated her. But when she got her star on Delmar, that made her feel good. It really did her heart well. She told them in her acceptance speech, in so many words, it was about time."
Anyone who met Ms. Bass seems to easily remember the woman whose personality was as big as her voice. I interviewed her several times before she started getting ill in 2005, and enjoyed just how regular she was, no pretensions, no airs.
She welcomed me into her home, and when we discovered we had a mutual love for bowling, we pledged to go bowling together one day and I took her up on it. When my family visited St. Louis years ago, I thought of her and called, asking if she'd like to go bowling with us.
It was my father's first bowling outing with a world famous No. 1 singer.
• John May, Chairman of the St. Louis Blues Society
He booked for the Big Muddy Blues Festival and at BB's Jazz Blues & Soups, and booked her mother Martha Bass at the first Blues Heritage Festival.
"The thing with Fontella is she was obviously raised with gospel but she was definitely influenced by R&B music. She fell right into it and made her biggest mark with 'Rescue Me.' She has been a prolific performer over the years, and was always an international artist. Some artists have their fame in a small big town like St. Louis but Fontella was known around the world. She performed more in Europe than the U.S., which is sometimes the case when it comes to blues and jazz."
May said she was tough as nails, always stuck to her guns and if she didn't want something to happen it wasn't going to happen.
"She had a lot of charisma about her. I learned a lot from having conversations with her."
Here's what some in St. Louis' music community have to say about Ms. Bass.
• Gene Dobbs Bradford, executive director at Jazz at the Bistro
"I remember the first time I met her. It was during my early days at Jazz at the Bistro. The Bosman Twins introduced me to her and I said 'THE Fontella Bass!' She would often sit in with the Bosmans when they played at the Bistro and came often to see shows. She continued to be a strong performer with a commanding presence."
• Marsha Evans, blues singer
Evans adored Ms. Bass long before she first met her in the late '60s or early '70s. They both sang in Oliver Sain's band and met in his recording studio, which was a popular hangout for musicians and singers.
"I was doing background work for Oliver and in walks Fontella Bass. I thought I had died and went to heaven," says Evans.
Evans went on to record on Ms. Bass' albums including "Travellin." "She was a person who allowed you to be creative and give input on the album...Forget recording an album. Fontella would have these big lavish meals three or four times a day. She was just so unaffected by fame, so down to earth. She wanted to cook for you, entertain you at her house. She was that kind of person."
They gigged a lot together including in Europe, and sometimes Evan's singing group would open for Ms. Bass, who'd give Evans a solo spot to sing "His Eye is on the Sparrow."
"I appreciate everything she passed on to me."
Evans is working on a tribute show to Ms. Bass, though she always has paid tribute to her in her shows.
Evans' husband, musician Jimmy Hinds, worked with her as well.
• Silky Sol, blues singer
"She was a great comfort to me when my mother and her good friend gospel great Ruby Summerville-Dickson passed away in 2005. Growing up, I was blessed to see her perform with grace, class and style. She inspired me as an artist to know that 'your gift of music can take you to faraway lands' when you stay humble.' "
• Alonzo Townsend, son of the late blues legend Henry Townsend
I think back almost like it was yesterday watching her down on the St. Louis riverfront at the historic St. Louis Blues Heritage Festivals my dad would perform at every year with the other greats like Oliver Sain, Johnnie Johnson and the 'Queen of St. Louis Soul' as they called her.
Miss Fontella was amazing. Her heart was just as sweet as her voice. There was no 'diva' about her. She would always give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Back then I just looked at it as another one of my father's musical friends. I was kissed by a legend, a pioneer, in my young life. I remember in 2008 at the Grammys (collecting his father's award) watching Tina Turner and Beyonce perform together and thinking 'wow, I've watched Fontella Bass by herself command the stage. Priceless."
• Dwight Bosman, one half of jazz duo the Bosman Twins
The Bosman Twins recorded with Ms. Bass and toured with her extensively including in Europe.
"She had a very gregarious personality. She was very exciting. When she met a stranger she turned him into a friend. She would talk to anybody. Her personality was overwhelming...I wasn't a devout blues player. But she taught us something about blues and gospel music. Those things are important and take time. And us having our own group for such a long time meant playing with her required some discipline."
• Joe Edwards, developer/businessman
I still have 'Rescue Me' and the other 45s she did, her duets with Bobby McClure. Her solo songs on Chess are just spectacular....She lived a very quiet life in University City for many years. She would come into Blueberry Hill for lunch occasionally. She will be missed for sure."
• Tom "Papa" Ray, Vintage Vinyl co-owner and musician
She was an outspoken feminist in her own way and an advocate for black performers at a time when that wasn't always the case. She was militant in the sense of somebody being so strong in her advocacy. She didn't allow social conventions to blunt it...She was just world class in every way."