Musician Johnny Otis dies aged 90

Johnny Otis Johnny Otis always said he identified far more with black culture than his own Greek origins

Johnny Otis, dubbed the "godfather of rhythm and blues", has died aged 90.

The bandleader, who had been unwell for several years, passed away at his home in Los Angeles, his manager said.

Best known for the track Willie and the Hand Jive, he also wrote Every Beat of My Heart, a hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1961.

"He is one of the greatest talents of American music and he was a great American," said music historian Tom Reed, adding "He could do it all."

Otis, who was born to Greek-American parents, grew up in a predominately black community in Berkeley in California, listening to blues, gospel and swing.

"As a kid, I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black," said Otis, who changed his birth name from John Veliotes.

Civil rights

In 1945 he formed his own band and went on to have his first big hit with Harlem Nocturne. Meanwhile, his reputation as a drummer was also growing.

But it was R&B which was to thrust him into the limelight.

Double Crossing Blues, Mistrustin' Blues and Cupid's Boogie all took the number one spot in 1949, with Mambo Boogie and Sunset to Dawn among his later hits.

Otis also unearthed talents such as Jackie Wilson and Etta James, for whom he composed The Wallflower in 1955.

His 1958 hit Willie and the Hand Jive saw him take the role of lead singer, and sold more than 1.5 million copies. It was later covered by Eric Clapton.

Otis worked as a radio DJ and became heavily involved in the civil rights movement, writing about both in his 1968 book Listen to the Lambs.

He continued to tour well into his 70s, while also becoming an ordained minister and organic farmer. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

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