Born and raised in a household that already had an impressive roster of gospel and R&B talent, it seemed Fontella Bass was simply destined to follow the same path as her mother, Martha Bass of the gospel group, Clara Ward Singers. R&B singer, David Peaston, is Fontella Bass’s much younger half-brother as these two siblings were born seventeen years apart. For Fontella, much of her childhood was spent on tour with her mother until she was sixteen years old. Whenever she was not on tour, she played the piano at funeral services and sang in the church choir. She also took part in local singing contests while in high school.
The official start of Fontella Bass’s career as a professional singer began when she was seventeen years old, performing at a club in Missouri. In 1961, she won an audition that landed her a singing gig for two weeks at a carnival where she did accept their invitation to join them on the road, but her mother refused to let her go. This brought Fontella Bass to hook up with American blues singer, Little Milton, who already learned of her musical talent from seeing her perform at the carnival. For Bass, what started out as a pianist soon put her in the role of vocalist due to a series of circumstances that eventually rewarded the woman with a recording career of her own. From 1966 until 2001, she recorded and released a total of eight studio albums and eleven singles. She also toured with her younger brother toward the last stretch of her singing career until her ailing health had begun to take its toll on her. On December 26, 2012, Fontella Bass passed away due to a heart attack. Her original music material was one of many that were destroyed in the 2008 Universal Studios fire in Hollywood.
Top 10 Fontella Bass Songs
#10 – What The World Needs Now
No Ways Tired was Fontella Bass’s sixth studio album, which was released in 1995, was infused with traditional gospel music. Her soft jazz cover of Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now” was, as quoted by Ottawa Citizen, performed by Bass as if she had the Holy Spirit singing through her. The orchestral background smoothly played in the background, rich with piano, percussion, and trumpet, parallelled beautifully with Bass’s soothing vocal range.
#9 – This Place I Call Home
An original written by Fontella Bass, “This Place I Call Home” is one of the gospel tracks from her album, No Ways Tired. This song, plus the album as a whole, was highly acclaimed by music critics, fellow artists, and fans who saw Fontella Bass’s vocal talent range as a soulful Soprano that has been the woman’s trademark sound since the beginning of her career. The start of the piano soon met with Bass’s opening narrative served before swaying into song. Full of soul and harmony delivered by Bass easily transformed this gospel into soul gospel.
#8 – Safe and Sound
On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Safe and Sound” just nudged in at the one hundred mark in 1966 and is one of the tracks featured on the 1992 album, Rescued: The Best of Fontella Bass. The powerful burst of Fontella Bass and her vocals, later joined by proud trumpets playing in the background, made this song not only a jazzy number but an easy favorite among fans of soul Gospels as Safe and Sound is loaded with a beautiful R&B sound.
#7 – You’ll Never Ever Know
From the 1992 album, Rescued: The Best of Fontella Bass, is the 1966 soft ballad, “You’ll Never Ever Know,” which charted on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at number thirty-four. This heartbreak song of a woman abandoned by her man as he takes up a new love was blues at its best, thanks to Bass’s powerful vocal delivery.
#6 – I Can’t Rest
On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, “I Can’t Rest” charted at number thirty-one when it was released in 1966. It is one of many singles featured on the 1992 album, Rescued: The Best of Fontella Bass. One of the best memories of earlier style R&B classics is how so many of the songs during its time was so full of soul. Between Fontella Bass’s vocal lead, the backup singers, and the full complement of musical instruments, I Can’t Rest continues to serve fans who have a fondness for music that seemed to have more heart and soul put into.
#5 – I Surrender
Rescued: The Best of Fontella Bass, was Fontella Bass’s fifth studio album that also served as a compilation album when it was released in 1992. “I Surrender” was a classic 1966 single that appeared on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at number thirty-three and on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number seventy-eight. The trumpeters beautifully accompanied Bass’s vocal performance, along with the backup singers that sang on queue with perfect precision.
#4 – No Ways Tired
Both the album and the single, “No Ways Tired,” were released in 1995 and since earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Performance. It was the second time in Fontella Bass’s career the National Academy of Recording Arts and Scientists would recognize her talent to reward her with a nomination. However, it would also be the second time she didn’t take home any of their trophies. Nevertheless, both the song and the album featured Bass at her finest as the soulful R&B artist she was. As for the song itself, the beautiful play of the music at the start served as a soft, jazzy intro before the harmonic performance from Fontella Bass’s vocals added the soulful impact that turned this song from ordinary to extraordinary.
#3 – Recovery
“Recovery” charted at number thirteen on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 1966, and on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number thirty-seven. On the UK Singles Chart, Recovery reached number thirty-two. It was a recording from her 1992 album, Rescued: The Best of Fontella Bass. Loaded with rhythm, blues, and soul, the song itself seemed like an ideal delivery from everyday troubles into at least a few minutes’ worths of musical escape.
#2 – Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing (featuring Bobby McClure)
On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” peaked at number five in 1965. It also charted at number thirty-three on the US Billboard Hot 100. The one was one of a few non-album-related recordings Fontella Bass performed, this time with Bobby McClure in this jazzy number as the two warn each other not to mess up a good thing they have going between each other as a couple, despite their cheating ways that threaten to put an end to the relationship.
#1 – Rescue Me
“Rescue Me” was Fontella Bass’s first and only number-one hit song on the US Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It was one of two songs released from her debut album, The New Look, which was released in 1966. Rescue Me also peaked as high as number four on the US Billboard Hot 100, and was a number eleven hit on the UK Singles Chart. There were three different recordings of the song that were performed as a studio that was all done life, without cuts. From there, the producers pick which one they like best. As it turned out, the recording that was accepted as a single release was the one to which Bass admitted she forgot some of the words and simply went with a series of “umms.” This song also received a nomination from the Grammy Awards in 1965 for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance Female.
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