Syl Johnson, much-sampled blues, funk and soul singer, dies aged 85
LEGENDARY soul singer Syl Johnson has died at 85, his family said Sunday.
The Different Strokes singer was known as one of the artists with the most sampled songs in hip-hop.
“A fiery, fierce, fighter, always standing for the pursuit of justice as it related to his music and sound, he will truly be missed by all who crossed his path,” read his family’s statement.
Born in Mississippi in 1936, Johnson was raised in Chicago where he remained throughout his life. He released his first solo material in 1959, and wrote genre-straddling work that led him to describe himself as “a jack-of-all-trades. More soul than Marvin [Gaye], more funk than James [Brown]”.
He had his biggest hit in 1975 with Take Me To the River, the song by labelmate Al Green that would also be recorded by Talking Heads. It reached No 7 in the US R&B chart and crossed over into the Top 50 of the pop chart.
His albums found a new audience after they were reissued by the label Numero Group in 2010 – their box set of his work earned him two Grammy nominations. The label said in tribute: “Sock it to ‘em wherever you end up next, old friend.”
Johnson was also the subject of a documentary, Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows, which featured an original score by Yo La Tengo and interviews with RZA, De La Soul’s Prince Paul, and Jonathan Lethem, among others.