Fontella Bass, 72, a St. Louis-born soul singer who hit the top of the R&B charts with "Rescue Me" in 1965, died Wednesday at a St. Louis hospice of complications from a heart attack suffered three weeks ago, her daughter, Neuka Mitchell, said.
Ms. Bass was born into a family with deep musical roots; her mother was gospel singer Martha Bass, one of the Clara Ward Singers.
She began singing in her church's choir at age 6. Her interest turned from gospel to R&B when she was a teenager, and she began her professional career at the Showboat Club in St. Louis at age 17. She eventually auditioned for Chess Records and landed a recording contract, first as a duet artist. Her song with Bobby McClure, "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing," reached No. 5 on the R&B charts and No. 33 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1965.
She cowrote and later that year recorded "Rescue Me," which reached No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 4 on the Billboard pop singles chart.
Ms. Bass lived briefly in Europe before returning to St. Louis in the early 1970s, where she and husband, Lester Bowie, raised their family. She recorded occasionally, including a 1995 gospel album, No Ways Tired, that earned a Grammy nomination. She was inducted into the St. Louis Hall of Fame in 2000.