Ralph Bass

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Ralph Bass
Born (1911-05-01)May 1, 1911
The Bronx
Died March 5, 1997(1997-03-05) (aged 85)
New York City
Genres Jazz, R&B
Occupation(s) Record producer
A&R scout
Years active 1941–1997
Labels Black and White

Ralph Bass (1 May 1911 – 5 March 1997), born Ralph Basso, Jr.,[lower-alpha 1] was an American rhythm and blues record producer and talent scout for several independent labels. He was a pioneer in bringing black music into the American mainstream. During his career he worked in key roles for Black & White Records, Savoy Records, King Records, Federal Records, and Chess Records, recording some of the greatest performers in black music, including Etta James, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Earl Bostic, and groups such as The Platters and The Dominoes. Bass was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 as a non-performer.[1]


Bass was born in The Bronx to an Italian-American-Catholic father, and a German-American-Jewish mother, As a young man, he visited the South and personally experienced the emotional power of black music in dance clubs. When he began his career as a record producer, segregation was in full effect and black performers were marginalized and relegated to one-night stands performing only to all-black audiences in a network of theatres and nightclubs known the Chitlin' Circuit. Bass decided to focus his career on bringing black music and black performers into the entertainment mainstream.[2]

Bass got his start in the 1940S as an A&R man at Black and White Records. At Black and White, he produced and recorded, among others, Lena Horne, Roosevelt Sykes, Jack McVea (suggesting he record the huge hit "Open the Door, Richard") and T-Bone Walker, including T-Bone's landmark "Call It Stormy Monday." From there he went on to help build two of the most successful independent labels, Savoy Records of New Jersey and King Records of Cincinnati, Ohio.[3] During this period, Bass toured the South with various blues bands, noted the large size of the audiences still predominantly black with but with an increasing numbers of whites. He sensed that the audience was changing.[4]

At Savoy Records from 1948 to 1951, he recorded Brownie McGhee and Johnny Otis. At Federal Records, a subsidiary of King run by Bass, he turned out a series of R&B hits, including The Dominoes' "Sixty Minute Man," "Have Mercy Baby," and Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie." When Syd Nathan at King Records at first refused to sign James Brown to record "Please, Please, Please" because he thought the demo was a piece of trash (later changing his mind) Bass signed Brown to Federal and produced "Please, Please, Please", the first Federal single, which was a regional hit and eventually sold a million copies.[5][6] He produced the original version of the R&B standard "Kansas City" recorded by Little Willie Littlefield.

In 1959, the Chess brothers hired Bass away from King Records in Cincinnati to serve as A&R Director at Chess Records.[8] He was there until 1976, working with blues, gospel, R&B, and rock and roll artists, including Clara Ward, the Soul Stirrers, Etta James, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Sonny Boy Williamson. He would compose the music for Pigmeat Markham's hit novelty single "Here Comes the Judge."[9] Later, for MCA Records he produced John Lee Hooker.[10]


The 2014 film Get On Up is a biography of James Brown produced by Bryan Grazer and Mick Jagger. Ralph Bass is portrayed in the film by Josh Hopkins.


First marriage

Ralph Bass married Alice Ethe (née Robbins) in 1932 in Manhattan, New York. They had two sons, Michael Howard Bass[lower-alpha 2] (born 1937) and Dennis Lloyd Bass (1941–1996).
Dennis Bass, served in the U.S. Navy before becoming a successful entrepreneur and real estate developer. Dennis had flourished in entertainment, namely as executive producer behind Toller Cranston's The Ice Show on Broadway in 1977 starring Olympic gold medalist Toller Cranston. Dennis — who lived in Malibu, California, with his wife Darla Bass and two daughters Elizabeth Ann Bass and Shauna Dennise Bass — died June 2, 1996, from spindle cell sarcoma of the liver. By way of Dennis and his wife, Ralph had two granddaughters: Elizabeth Ann and Shauna, who currently reside in New York City. Shauna Bass, the younger granddaughter, has worked for OK! magazine since 2007 as an on-air correspondent and Entertainment and Beauty Director.
Michael Bass is a prolific philatelist. By way of Michael and his late wife Janice Suzanne (née Behrman; 1943–1995), Ralph had three grandchildren: Alexis Bass, Scott R. Bass (born 1964), and Todd A. Bass (born 1964) – Scott and Todd are twins.
Elizabeth Ann and Shauna, and Ralph's surviving son, Michael Bass, are copyright claimants of the entire music collection of Ralph Bass.
Ralph and Alice divorced.

Second marriage

On December 14, 1960, Ralph married Shirley Hall (1936–1998), a Chicago-born dancer and choreographer, with whom he remained married for the rest of his life. Shirley had been a dancer, choreographer, and instructor at the Sammy Dyer School of the Theatre in Chicago. She also had danced and choreographed for the Dyerettes, an African-American female dance and acrobatic troupe. The Dyerettes, in their heyday during the fifties and sixties, toured with Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Ray Charles, Count Basie, and Sarah Vaughan. Shirley, in 1968, founded the Bahamas Dance Theatre in Nassau. Bahamians nicknamed her "Mamma Cool." Shirley moved back and forth between the U.S. and The Bahamas until her death in 1998.[11]
In the Bahamas, Ralph and Shirley Bass adopted Joanne (Joey) Patricia Fox (born in Nassau, Bahamas) when she was 12. Joey is married to Gregory Stevenson and is known as Joey Fox-Stevenson.

Other children

In the early-1950s, after divorcing Alice, and before marrying Shirley, Ralph had two children, a daughter and a son.

External links


"Ralph Bass, First Recording," told by Ralph Bass on YouTube



  1. The birth surname of Ralph Bass's paternal grandfather, who was born in Italy, was DuBasso.
  2. Michael Bass, Ralph's first of two sons, is also known as Michael DuBasso.

Inline citations

  1. "Hall of Fame Inducts Its 6th Crop of Legends," by Peter Watrous, New York Times, January 17, 1991
  2. "House Resolution 218: Ralph Bass Memorial," Illinois House of Representatives, 90th General Assembly (1997–1998)
  3. Honkers and Shouters, by Arnold Shaw (1909–1989), New York: Macmillan (1978), pps. 225, 235–247; OCLC 3516614, ISBN 978-0-02-061740-2
  4. Urban Blues, by Charles Keil, University of Chicago Press 1991; pg. 100; OCLC 232252, ISBN 0-226-42960-1
  5. "James Brown," History of Rock 'n' Roll www.history-of-rock.com, March 1998 (retrieved 8 November 2006)
  6. Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, by Gerri Hirshey, Da Capo Press, pps. 61–62 (1994); OCLC 30318274, ISBN 0-306-80581-2
  7. "Mr. Brown, On The Road With His Bad Self," by Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker, July 29, 2002
  8. "The Chess Story," by Mike Callahan & David Edwards, Both Sides Now Publications www.bsnpubs.com, last updated November 4, 2005 (retrieved November 8, 2006)
  9. "Inductee: Ralph Bass, Non-Performer" Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame (1991) (retrieved November 8, 2006)
  10. Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues (CD) (product description), John Lee Hooker (performing artist), MCA/Chess (2002); OCLC 49516734 (retrieved November 8, 2006)
  11. "The Bahamas Dance Theatre Presents 'Shake' At The Dundas Centre, December 16, 17, 18," by Deby Nash, What's On (Nassau, Bahamas), November 29, 1999