"Johnny Otis, the musician, bandleader, songwriter, impresario, disc jockey and talent scout often called ‘the godfather of rhythm and blues,’ died on Tuesday at his home in Altadena, Calif.," The New York Times reports. He was 90.
The Times article says: “Leading a band in the late 1940s that combined the high musical standards of big-band jazz with the raw urgency of gospel music and the blues, Mr. Otis played a key role in creating a new sound for a new audience of young urban blacks, a sound that within a few years would form the foundation of rock ’n’ roll.”
Otis was instrumental in launching the careers of many artists, including Etta James, Jackie Wilson, Esther Phillips and Big Mama Thornton, the story notes.
The story adds: “Despite being a mover and shaker in the world of black music, Mr. Otis was not black, a fact that as far as he was concerned was simply an accident of birth. He was immersed in African-American culture from an early age and considered himself, he said, ‘black by persuasion.’”
Among his many talents, Otis played piano, vibraphone and drums. He played on a string of seminal R&B records, including Johnny Ace’s “Pledging My Love” and Charles Brown’s “Drifting Blues,” and also performed on jazz cuts by Lester Young and Illinois Jacquet, the story reports.
“As a bandleader and occasional vocalist, he had a string of rhythm-and-blues hits in the early 1950s and a Top 10 pop hit in 1958 with his composition ‘Willie and the Hand Jive,’ later covered by Eric Clapton and others,” the story reports. “His many other compositions included ‘Every Beat of My Heart,’ a Top 10 hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1961.”