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Wilbert Harrison; Singer Had Hits With 'Kansas City,' 'Let's Work Together'

October 29, 1994|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wilbert Harrison, whose rollicking version of a blues tune that extolled those "crazy little women" who lived in Kansas City became an overnight success near the dawn of rock 'n' roll, has died.

Harrison, who battled poverty and fickle fans through the major part of his career, died Wednesday of a stroke in Spencer, N.C. He was 65.

Although he had two big hits during a career that began when he was 16--"Kansas City" in 1959 and "Let's Work Together" a decade later--Harrison was forced to work as a solo act throughout his life because he could never afford sidemen.

"Kansas City" topped the pop charts for two weeks in May, 1959, and was by far Harrison's biggest hit. The song, a version of the blues tune "K.C. Loving," was also performed and recorded by the Beatles, James Brown and Ann-Margret.

"Let's Work Together" was a plea for greater understanding among people, and its success led to a big-time but abbreviated tour with Creedence Clearwater.

Harrison's guitar playing and singing began in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., and by the early 1950s he was making a few unsuccessful records for the Rockin label. One was "This Woman of Mine," which attracted some attention and led to a recording contract with the DeLuxe and Savoy labels and later with Fury.

Although he continued to perform into the '90s, Harrison never matched his earlier successes.

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