Friday, December 28, 2012


Like most of us, I thought Aretha Franklin had the hit song "Rescue Me" and when I think of it hear Aretha's voice. But it was Fontella Bass, a much less successful singer in terms of fame and fortune but nonetheless talented.

In fact Fontella also co-wrote the tune and back in 1965 had the hit of it in the arrangement we all hear in our heads when we think of it. Her passing has brought the facts back in play (Aretha did a version based on Fontella's in 1993 for a commercial, so younger folks might have Aretha's version in their heads from that ad).

This brings into focus something I've written about a lot over the decades, and here in recent years, that those old cliches about "cream always rises to the top" and "talent always will out" etc. don't always hold true, and in many instances are just plain false.

Think of all the people whose talent and innovations and creations have impacted your life or mine and, if we're really honest and remembering correctly, there will be performances by actors or musicians or readings by poets or insights from lectures or talks, or just conversations from people, we can't even remember the names of. Meanwhile there are people who seem ubiquitous, whose names roll off almost everyone's lips like they are seminal figures and yet who either were pale imitations of the now forgotten originals or just lucky in their timing and connections (think of the tons of movies that Steve Guttenberg starred in back in the '80s, making him a much more famous and rich movie actor than say Bruno Kirby who I knew back then and was a consummate comic and dramatic screen actor most people don't remember or never heard of).

Bass is one of those many of us forgot or never even knew and yet just thinking of that musical phrase "Rescue Me" brings her to mind, we just didn't realize that.

[Thanks to my old friend Gene Harris for hipping me to Bass's passing. And here's one obit for her that fills in more about her life and career.]

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