Kansas City blues icon Annetta 'Cotton Candy' Washington dies at 76

Thursday, December 27, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City blues icon Annetta "Cotton Candy" Washington died on Christmas from complications from a stroke. She was 76.

The singer suffered a stroke on Dec. 15 while performing at a breast cancer benefit at Blayney's blues club in the city's Westport bar entertainment district, said saxophonist Chris Cohick, a regular Washington collaborator. Washington, who died in the early morning hours Tuesday, would have celebrated her 40th year as a local music fixture this coming year, he said.

"It's hard to find a blues musician in this town that doesn't have a Cotton Candy story of some kind," Cohick said. "Just about everyone has either performed with her or received some support or encouragement from her."

Washington's motto -- according to an essay on her Web site, www.cottoncandyblues.com -- was: "I am too blessed to be depressed."

"She's a woman that had very humble and austere beginnings, but she was always one of those people who took what life gave them and made the most of it," Cohick said.

Washington performed regularly and actively supported local musicians even after losing a leg to diabetes. She would attend jam sessions and the concerts of other performers, never hesitating to sit in for a song, said bassist John Altevogt, who played with her about four years.

Washington was known for performing at area benefit concerts, too.

Her voice also was prize-winning. She and her band were twice winners of Best Blues Band contests in Kansas City. In 1998, they placed third in the International Best Blues Band Contest in Memphis.

"She didn't just sing the blues; she entertained people," said fellow blues performer D.C. Bellamy. "She intertwined with the audience and could always make them laugh. She was full of joy and there was an excitement you couldn't get away from with her."

Washington was a founding member of the Kansas City Blues Society and was among the first women to be named an Elder Statesman of Jazz in Kansas City, Cohick said.

The legendary blues woman was a direct link to Kansas City's thriving jazz and blues past, Altevogt said.

"She was one of the few remaining who reach back to that era," he said. "She was there at 18th and Vine," the city's historic jazz district where legendary musicians such as Charlie "Bird" Parker and Count Bassie once played.

"Now without her we're deprived of that history."

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