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Chicago Blues Legend Syl Johnson Dies at Age 85

Chicago Blues Legend Syl Johnson Dies at Age 85

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CHICAGO (CelebrityAccess) – Chicago blues, funk and soul singer/guitarist Syl Johnson has died at the age of 85. The Mississippi-born brother of blues guitarist / singer Jimmy Johnson also worked as a producer. His death comes on the heels of his brother Jimmy’s passing just six days before.

The family released a statement on Facebook:

“It is with extreme sadness that our family announces the passing of Soul & Blues Hall of Fame Legend, Syl Johnson. Dad, Brother, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, Uncle, Friend & Artist, he lived his life as a singer, musician, and entrepreneur who loved black music.”

Born in Holly Springs, MS, Johnson’s family moved to Chicago’s South Side and landed on the same street as bluesman Magic Sam. Johnson would grace the stage with him over the years along with Junior Wells, Howlin’ Wolf, and Billy Boy Arnold, among others.

Johnson made his debut in 1959 with the “Teardrops” single on the Vee-Jay Label, but in the mid 1960s moved to Chicago label Twilight where he achieved his access. In 1969, he released the single, “Is it Because I’m Black”, where he tackled African American social issues of the time, as the single hit No. 11 on the Billboard R&B chart. Johnson was best known for his 1967 hit “Different Strokes”, which has been widely sampled by today’s artists including Ye (fka Kanye West), Jay-Z, Public Enemy, Hammer and Wu-Tang.

I, Sumori, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Johnson left the music industry in the 1980s and founded Solomon’s Fishery, a fried fish restaurant which is now a Chicago area chain. In 1994, after the resurgence of his single due to artist sampling, Johnson decided to forge a comeback, releasing the album Back in the Game for Delmark Records. In 2002, he joined brother Jimmy for the album, Two Johnsons Are Better Than One. Numero Group released “Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology” in 2010 which garnered two Grammy nominations. Lastly, he worked with his daughter Syleena for his final album with Melody Whittle in 2013. He was a Blues Hall of Fame inductee in 2019.

“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. His catalog and legacy will be remembered as impeccable and a historical blueprint to all who experience it. To his fans around the world, he loved you all. A lover of music and a Chicago icon, Syl Johnson lived his life unapologetically. At this time, we ask for your prayers for our family, his friends, and fans, and we ask that you continue to play his music and share the remarkable legacy he’s made in music.” ~ Syl Johnson’s Family on Facebook
Funeral services have not been announced as of press time.

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