Fontella Bass Dies At 72

Motown-era pop star Fontella Bass died of heart disease on Wednesday at the age of 72.

After some early recordings with Little Milton’s Bobbin label in St. Louis, she joined Chess and released her first records on its Checker subsidiary in early 1965. The first two, “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” and “You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone),” duets with Bobby McClure, had modest success on the rhythm-and-blues charts. But her career was made by “Rescue Me,” released later that year. Driven by a bubbly bass line, it featured Ms. Bass’s high-spirited voice in wholesomely amorous lyrics like “Come on and take my hand/Come on, baby, and be my man,” as well as some call-and-response moans that Ms. Bass later said resulted from a studio accident. “When we were recording that, I forgot some of the words,” she told The New York Times in 1989. “Back then, you didn’t stop while the tape was running, and I remembered from the church what to do if you forget the words. I sang, ‘Ummm, ummm, ummm,’ and it worked out just fine.”

In 1990 Bass successfully sued for publishing royalties after she heard Rescue Me being used in an American Express commercial.

TRIVIA: The background vocals on Rescue Me were sung by Minnie Riperton.