The entertainment world has lost a pioneer of Blues and R&B.
Denise LaSalle, renowned R&B singer, songwriter and record producer, has died, former business partner Randall Page confirms. She was 78 years old.
Denise, who called the Hub City home with her husband James Wolfe, is recognized as the “Queen of the Blues.”
For a couple of years she had dealt with heart problems and recently a leg amputation at Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville.
Soul and blues star Denise LaSalle was born Denise Allen near Sidon in rural Leflore County on July 16, 1939, but spent much of her childhood here in Belzoni. After moving to Chicago in her teens, she began writing songs and scored the first of many self-penned hits in 1971 with the No. 1 R&B single “Trapped By a Thing Called Love.” LaSalle’s direct and often provocative style on stage also led to great success as a live performer.
Denise LaSalle achieved success not only as a recording artist and performer but also as a songwriter, producer, record label owner, and nightclub operator. Ora Denise Allen spent her early years on a plantation and around age seven or eight moved with her family moved to Belzoni, where they lived in homes on Cain and Hayden streets. In the late 1940s she saw bluesmen Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 performing on radio programs broadcast from the Easy Pay furniture store downtown. She sang in church as a child and after moving to Chicago in her mid-teens worked with the gospel group The Sacred Five.
At fifteen Allen sold stories to the magazines Tan and True Confessions. Soon thereafter she began writing songs and changed her professional name to “LaSalle” because it “sounded French.” In 1967 LaSalle made her first recordings for bluesman Billy “The Kid” Emerson’s Tarpon label, scoring a minor hit with “A Love Reputation.” In 1969 LaSalle and her then-husband Bill Jones formed Crajon Enterprises. The LaSalle-penned “Get Your Lie Straight” was a major hit for Bill Coday on the Crajon label. In 1971-72 LaSalle gained national recognition with three Top Ten R&B singles on Westbound Records: “Trapped By a Thing Called Love,” “Now Run and Tell That,” and “Man Sized Job.” As further records on Westbound, ABC, and MCA continued to hit the charts, LaSalle was becoming infamous for her racy onstage persona and extended, off-color “raps” on how women should please their men and vice versa. LaSalle attributed her strong abilities as a storyteller to her lifelong love of country music; her song “Married, But Not to Each Other” was covered by country star Barbara Mandrell.
In 1984 LaSalle recorded the first in a long series of albums for Jackson-based Malaco Records. Nine of her Malaco albums in the 1980s and ‘90s sold well enough to make the national charts, as did the Malaco single “My Tu-Tu.” During this period LaSalle began to be marketed as a “blues” rather than “R&B” artist and in 1986 she founded the National Association for the Preservation of the Blues to bring more attention to the “soul/blues” style. LaSalle also wrote songs for Z. Z. Hill, who had a hit with her “Someone Else Is Steppin’ In,” as well as for Ann Peebles and Little Milton, whose recording of the LaSalle-Mack Rice composition “Packed Up and Took My Man” was sampled by rapper Ghostface Killah. In 1997 LaSalle left Malaco after her husband, businessman and disc jockey James “Super” Wolfe, Jr., joined the ministry. She recorded a gospel album on her own Angel In the Midst label, but soon returned to the blues field with popular albums on her Ordena label and on Ecko Records. In 2008 she rejoined the Malaco Records roster.
She was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis and the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame.
LaSalle was recently nominated in the “Soul Blues Female Artist” category for the 39th Blues Music Awards. That event is scheduled for May 10 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.