Legendary blues and soul singer Syl Johnson passed away on Sunday (Feb. 6), CBS Chicago and other outlets report. He was 85 years old.
Johnson’s family confirmed the sad news in a statement.
“It is with extreme sadness that our family announces the passing of Soul & Blues Hall of Fame Legend, Syl Johnson (born Sylvester Thompson in Holly Springs, MS),” it read. “Dad, Brother, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, Uncle, Friend & Artist, he lived his life as a singer, musician and entrepreneur who loved Black music.”
“A fiery, fierce fighter, always standing for the pursuit of justice as it related to his music and sound, he will truly be missed by all who crossed his path,” the statement continued. “His catalog and legacy will be remembered as impeccable and a historical blueprint to all who experience it.”
“At this time, we ask for your prayers for our family, his friends and fans, and we ask that you continue to play his music and share the remarkable legacy he’s made in music,” it added.
A native of Mississippi, Johnson moved with his family to Chicago in the 1950s when he was 14 years old. It was there that he got his start as a backup singer, playing and singing with blues icons Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells, Howlin’ Wolf and Magic Sam, his neighbor.
In the 60s, Johnson signed to Twinight Records and released hits like “Come On Sock It to Me” and “Is It Because I’m Black.”
Johnson also crafted “Different Strokes,” a song that went on to be sampled in over 300 hip hop songs, including Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Wu-Tang Clan’s “Shame On a N***a,” Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul,” De La Soul’s “The Magic Number,” Kanye West and JAY-Z’s “The Joy” and Michael Jackson’s “2 Bad” with Shaquille O’Neal.
Johnson also released almost 20 albums throughout his career, including his majorly popular soul cover of Al Green and Mabon “Teenie” Hodges’ “Take Me to the River.”