That headline was used by MSN to announce the death of Fontella Bass. Almost everyone remembers the song but I suspect few remember the singer. Fontella Bass was born on July 3, 1940 in St Louis, Missouri. She died two days ago on Dec 26, 2012. She was 72. As many of the black artists of the forties and fifties, she started out in gospel, learning music from her mother, Martha Bass who was a singer with the gospel group The Ward Singers. She learned piano and started to play for her mother’s group.
But gospel wasn’t enough for Fontella. She wanted more and turned to secular music. Her first couple hits were “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” (peaked at #33 on the pop charts) and “You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone)” both duets with Bobby McClure. She hit it big with “Rescue Me” which peaked at number 4 on the Top 40 pop charts. Everyone sang that song, including Aretha Franklin. The recording of the song was done in one take. Once the tape was rolling they didn’t stop it. Partway through the song, she forgot some of the words and so just sang “um um um um”. No one noticed and no one cared. It was still a big hit.
A few weeks ago Fontella had a heart attack and she never quite recovered from it, finally dying on Dec 26, 2012. I’ve always enjoyed “Rescue Me” and hope you do too.