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'Rescue Me' singer Fontella Bass dies
ST. LOUIS -- Fontella Bass, a St. Louis-born soul singer who hit the top of the R&B charts with "Rescue Me" in 1965, has died. She was 72.
Bass died Wednesday night at a St. Louis hospice of complications from a heart attack suffered three weeks ago, her daughter, Neuka Mitchell, said. Bass also had suffered a series of strokes in the past seven years.
"She was an outgoing person," Mitchell said of her mother. "She had a very big personality. Any room she entered she just lit the room up, whether she was on stage or just going out to eat."
Bass was born into a family with deep musical roots. Her mother was gospel singer Martha Bass, one of the Clara Ward Singers. Her younger brother, David Peaston, had a string of R&B hits in the 1980s and 1990s. Peaston died in February at age 54.
She co-wrote and later that year recorded "Rescue Me," reaching No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 4 on the Billboard pop singles chart. Bass's powerful voice bore a striking resemblance to that of Aretha Franklin, who is often misidentified as the singer of that chart-topping hit.
Bass had a few other modest hits, but by her own accounts developed a reputation as a troublemaker because she demanded more artistic control, and more money for her songs. She haggled over royalty rights to "Rescue Me" for years before reaching a settlement in the late 1980s, Mitchell said. She sued American Express for the use of "Rescue Me" in a commercial, settling for an undisclosed amount in 1993.
"Rescue Me" has been covered by top artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Melissa Manchester and Pat Benatar. Franklin eventually sang a form of it too -- as "Deliver Me" in a Pizza Hut TV ad in 1991.
Bass lived briefly in Europe before returning to St. Louis in the early 1970s, where she and husband Lester Bowie raised their family. She recorded occasionally, including a 1995 gospel album, "No Ways Tired," that earned a Grammy nomination.
Bass was inducted into the St. Louis Hall of Fame in 2000.
Funeral arrangements for Bass were incomplete. She is survived by four children. Bowie died in 1999.