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Thursday, January 19, 2012

R.I.P. Johnny Otis, R&B Pioneer

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2012 at 10:20 AM

Johnny Otis, R.I.P.
  • Johnny Otis, R.I.P.

Johnny Otis, the Vallejo-born musician who helped coalesce jazz, blues, and gospel into rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues, died Tuesday at his home in Altadena, California. He was 90.

Best known for classics like "Hand Jive" -- an early rock 'n' roll hit -- and the sensual "Harlem Nocturne," Otis is credited with helping popularize R&B throughout the country. In addition to being a pianist and drummer, Otis was also a gifted scout of musical talent, helping to launch the careers of Etta James, Jackie Wilson, and Big Mama Thornton, among others.

Big Mama Thornton, of course, recorded the hit song "Hound Dog" four years before Elvis Presley would make it a smash. Otis produced and played drums on her recording of the song.

Otis was Greek-American by birth. But "psychologically, environmentally, culturally, by choice, I'm a member of the black community," he told the San Jose Mercury News in 1994.

Otis was born Dec. 28, 1921 as John Alexander Veliotes. He leaves behind his wife of 70 years, Phyllis, four children, nine grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.


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Ian S. Port


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