Black Artists of the 1960’s: Fontella Bass

Origins of the Great Fontella Bass

  • Fontella Bass was born on July 3rd, 1940 in St. Louis Missouri. At a very early age, Bass was a gifted musician and she began her musical career through performing piano accompaniments during funerals and through singing in church with her mother. Music also ran in Bass’ blood as her mother, Martha bass, was a very talented gospel singer in the infamous group, The Clara Ward Singers. Martha Bass would often bring her daughter, Fontella on tour with her.
  • As Fontella Bass grew older, she began to distance herself from her gospel roots and took more of an interest in performing secular music. Due to this interest, Bass began entering into Rhythm and Blues competitions and fairs and began performing the genre in local clubs in St. Louis.
  • Upon graduating high school, Bass joined Oliver Sain and Bobby Mcclure to form “The Oliver Sain Soul Revue featuring Fontella Bass and Bobby Mcclure.” During this time, she performed with the group and eventually performed a few songs produced by Ike Turner.

The Height of Bass’ Career

  • For a few years, Bass built a promising career with the group and recorded several top 10 hits with the group under the Chess records label. But eventually, Bass decided it was time for her to venture into the industry on her own and start a solo career.
  • To begin her solo career, Bass moved to Chicago and in 1965 recorded the biggest hit of her career, “Rescue Me”.
    • Aretha Franklin is often mistaken as the singer of this song, when in truth, it was Fontella Bass.
  • This song remained on the charts for months and even held a longstanding spot in the top 5 on the billboard. This song was also one of Chess records biggest selling hits, and upon release of the song, Bass’ career seemed indefinitely promising. However, Bass would never achieve success like this through her music again.
    • After the songs success, Bass attempted to gain her rightful portion of the songwriting credits, but she never received credit for her contributions to the writing of this major hit. In addition to this, after fighting this battle over credits, Bass gained a poor reputation of being “difficult” in the industry and thus, it was hard for her to find work and achieve the same level of success as she had when the song first came out.
  • After releasing “Rescue Me” Bass recorded a few more tracks, one of which hit the US top 20 (Sweet Lovin’ Daddy) but none of which she gained the same success she did from her first hit single.

The Later Years of Fontella Bass

Following this experience, Bass had little success in her musical career in comparison to what it was in the beginning. However, towards the end of her life, she returned back to her gospel roots and ended up recording a gospel album with members of her family titled “Promises: A Family Portrait of Faith.”

  • Through her hard times and through the most glorious moments of her career, one thing remained the same. Bass’ iconic voice. Throughout her life, Fontella Bass always had a strong and unique gospel voice that shone through whatever album she recorded or whatever performance she had.
  • Fontella Bass passed away on December 26th, 2012 at the age of 72.


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