Bandleader and producer Johnny Otis, who launched and then nurtured the careers of many of R&B's greatest singers, died Tuesday at his home near Los Angeles. He was 90. Fresh Air remembers Otis with excerpts from a 1989 interview.
Bandleader, singer, songwriter, and talent scout Johnny Otis. His musical career spans the big band era, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll. In the 40's he played and traveled with the big bands, with the Ink Spots and Louis Jordan. Later, with a pared down band, he was on the forefront of the rhythm and blues. He's credited with discovering Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Jackie Wilson and Ernestine Anderson.
Etta James, the legendary vocalist who is perhaps known for her version of the song "At Last," has died. She was 73. Fresh Air remembers the singer with excerpts from a 1994 interview about her lengthy career.
Johnny Otis, who was born to Greek parents, claimed he became black by immersing himself in African American communities and culture. He later opened a blues club in Los Angeles, and helped promote new talent in the scene. Rock historian Ed Ward tells his story.