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Two sides of Fontella Bass, the late, great St. Louis soul singer

December 27, 2012|By Randall Roberts | Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • Fontella Bass performs in November 2001 at the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's 12th annual Pioneer Awards at the legendary Apollo Theatre in New York.
Fontella Bass performs in November 2001 at the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's… (Getty Images )

This post has been updated. See below for details.

Any appreciation of soul singer Fontella Bass, who died Wednesday at age 72, must first acknowledge “Rescue Me,” the propellant 1965 R&B banger that became her signature. But equally vital in her -- and the American -- pantheon is “Theme de Yoyo,” her rousing vocal turn during the free jazz collective Art Ensemble of Chicago’s 1970 album “Les Stances a Sophie.”

Fontella Bass: An Appreciation

The two works illustrate the range of the singer’s power: One is a gut-busting soul cry, the other a nine-minute thrill ride that drives funk and boundary-busting jazz through one instrumental climax after another.

Bass died in her hometown of St. Louis after suffering a heart attack this month, and though she never achieved the fame that fellow belter Aretha Franklin did, she charted a fascinating course with music. Bass’ stubborn vocal insistence in early soul hits “Rescue Me,” "Leave It in the Hands of Love" and "Our Day Will Come"  was mirrored in her artistic temperament, which chose aesthetic expansion over pop music success as she matured as an artist. 

I’ll be offering a full appreciation of Bass’ work later in the day, but for now, take 9:11 out of your week to explore “Theme de Yoyo.” 

Update: Here's a link to my full appreciation.

Or hear her in a totally different context: as the anchor of the Cinematic Orchestra’s "All That You Give."

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