This Day In History: July 3rd
Not all songs withstand the test of time, but the 1965 classic single “Rescue Me” has managed to do so. However, the two-time Grammy-nominated singer behind the song, Fontella Bass, is not as widely known as the piece she performed.
Fontella Bass was born on July 3, 1940, in St. Louis, Missouri and musical talents were common in her family. Her mother was gospel singer Martha Bass and she followed in her mother’s footsteps from an early age. Bass sang in the church choir as a child and even experienced life on tour by traveling on the gospel circuit with her mother.
By her teenage years, she began to take an interest in secular music, which led her to join Little Milton’s band after she graduated from high school. Her time performing at clubs and with the band allowed her an opportunity to audition for Chess Records. Bass secured a record deal as a duet artist and recorded “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” with Bobby McClure in 1965.
The song led to a solo recording session for Chess Records and from that recording, Bass produced her most popular song, “Rescue Me.” She received her first Grammy nomination and the song helped to bring her international acclaim as well. She released other songs, including “Recovery,” but behind-the-scenes issues over co-writing credits and finances began to overshadow her career.
In 1969, Bass married her colleague and trumpeter Lester Bowie. That same year he moved to Paris, seeking a wider European audience for the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Bass also moved to Paris and joined the group. She added her powerful vocals and piano skills to the ensemble before deciding to return back to St. Louis in the early 1970s.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Bass occasionally recorded songs. She also continued seeking royalty rights over her hit song. In 1993, she sued American Express over the use of “Rescue Me” in a commercial and settled for an undisclosed amount. Two years later, she released a gospel album, No Ways Tired, for which she earned a Grammy nomination. The singer was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2000.
Fontella Bass died in her hometown after complications from a heart attack on December 26, 2012.