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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

May 8, 2023

Throughout history, many of the music industry’s great artists are from right here in St. Louis. Fontella Bass is certainly up there with the legends. She was a pianist and songwriter, in addition to her vocal talents. And she helped write a famous song, that she had to fight to try and have songwriting credit on. Just press play to hear the whole story. ------

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Podcast Transcript: I am not ashamed to say that I love Motown music. Even as a young kid growing up in Ohio in the 80s I loved listening to the oldies station on the radio. Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Aretha…I loved them all. But hands down, my all time favorite song was Rescue Me by Fontella Bass. Imagine my delight years later when I moved to St. Louis and discovered that this was her hometown. ———

If you turned on the radio in late 1965, chances are you would hear Fontella’s soulful voice singing that amazing song. But it had taken a tardy lead singer to finally convince her to step out from behind the piano and take her place on the center stage. ———

At the request of her grandmother, Fontella began playing the piano at funerals at the age of 5, and went on tour with her mother, gospel singer Martha Bass, at the age of 9. Born and raised in St. Louis, Fontella attended Soldan High School while already earning money as a musician. She became the piano player for Little Milton, a well known blues singer, and one evening, when he was late for a show, she covered for him, and her singing career began. Soon she was a regularly featured singer, and later became a highlighted act with the Oliver Sain Soul Review. ———

Fontella began recording solo records in 1962, but the songs just didn’t gain much of an audience. It wasn’t until she released a duet with Bobby McClure in early 1965 that her career really began to take off. A few months later, after an informal jam session and only 3 takes, she unknowingly recorded what would become her best-selling record. Released on September 4, 1965, Rescue Me climbed to number 1 on the R&B charts by October 30, and made it to number 9 on the Hot 100. ———

Unfortunately, Fontella wasn’t included as one of the songwriters on the album, and spent years fighting for both recognition and royalty rights for the song she co-wrote. She continued to record through the 1980s, but the high point of her career remains the unforgettable song that will forever be tied to her name. ———

Here’s History is a joint production of K-D-H-X and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Katie Moon, and this is eighty-eight-one, K-D-H-X, St. Louis.  ———