Robert W. Blackwell, Lived To Play Jazz Bass
January 02, 2001|by Paul Davies, Daily News Staff Writer
Robert W. Blackwell, a professional jazz musician and former Marine, died at his home in Philadelphia on Saturday after a long illness. He was 64.Blackwell got hooked on jazz at an early age. He taught himself how to read music and play the bass guitar.
“He was the smoothest bass player that ever lived,” said his common-law wife of 25 years, Ruth Saunders.Blackwell was a frequent performer at the original Zanzibar Blue and the Villa Stratford in Wayne. He recorded an album titled “Thank God for Jazz” with Tony Williams. Blackwell played in several bands, including the Gerald Price Trio and Bob Blackwell and Friends.

Throughout his career, Blackwell performed with a number of noted jazz musicians, including Butch Ballard, Bootsie Barnes, Milt Buchner, Sarah Dean, Bobbie Dorham, the late Frank Gatline and Little Jimmy Scott. A favorite tune of Blackwell’s was “Mar Dotsie.”
“His life was his music,” Saunders said. Blackwell was born in Norristown, to the late J. Brinkley and Catherine E. Blackwell. Blackwell graduated from Germantown High School. He joined the Marines in 1953 and received an honorable discharge in 1961. In addition to jazz, Blackwell liked to fish and cook.”His spaghetti sauce was out of sight,” Saunders said.

Blackwell especially liked to cook around the holidays. He made a mean prime rib.
In addition to his wife, Blackwell is survived by a daughter, Ingrid Blackwell; two stepchildren, William Saunders and Elizabeth Saunders-Mapp; a brother, Brinkley M. Blackwell; a sister, Evelyn Blackwell; and five grandchildren.A funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Friday at the Rose Funeral Home at 1020 Dekalb Pike in Norristown. Before the service, a viewing will be held at the funeral home from 8 to 10 a.m. A private burial will follow.

Blackwell, Robert “Bumps” (1918-1985)

Robert “Bumps” Blackwell was a musician, producer and composer who worked with the top names in early jazz and rock and roll. Blackwell was born in Seattle on May 23, 1918. By the late 1940s his Seattle-based “Bumps Blackwell Junior Band” featured Ray Charles and Quincy Jones, and played with artists like Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway and Billy Eckstine. He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s and hired on with Art Rupe’s Specialty Records.

In 1955, Blackwell flew to New Orleans to record Little Richard (Richard Penniman), a singer who they hoped would become the next Nat King Cole. During a break in the tepid recording session everybody headed to a nearby bar where Mr. Penniman started banging out an obscene club song on the piano. “Daddy Bumps” knew he had a hit so he brought in a local songwriter to clean up the lyrics. “Tutti-Frutti, good booty” became “Tutti Frutti, all rootie,” and Little Richard became a star. Bumps wrote or co-wrote other early rock hits including “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Rip It Up.”

Blackwell produced the hit “You Send Me” against Rupe’s wishes. Rupe feared Sam Cooke’s crossover from gospel to pop would hurt the sales of his gospel records. Rupe fired Bumps who then took Cooke and his recording cross town to Keen Records where it became the first #1 hit by a solo black artist. He went on to garner 17 Gold Records while producing a variety of artists including Sly Stone, Lou Rawls, the Fifth Dimension, the Chambers Brothers, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, the Coasters, Ike and Tina Turner and Bob Dylan.

Blackwell taught his artists the business side of music, “because I don’t want my pupils to be unprepared like I was, like [Little] Richard was, like we all were.” The Blackwell International Academy of the Performing Arts was opened after his death in 1985.