Blues singer Denise LaSalle has died. She was 79 years old. In October of 2016 the legendary rhythm & blues recording artist underwent the amputation of her right leg at Vanderbuilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Health issues that led to the amputation are believed to have begun with a fall LaSalle suffered “some time ago.” In July of 2017, LaSalle, underwent triple bypass surgery, but recovered well.
Denise LaSalle was born Ora Denise Allen in rural Mississippi Delta on July 16, 1939, but she spent much of her childhood in Belzoni, Mississippi. LaSalle is listed on the Mississippi Blues Trail. “There is a sign in Belzoni at the Courthouse with a picture of LaSalle and her father.
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 an 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 was often criticized for some of her lyrics, some of which she wrote, and/or racy stage persona.
In 1997, LaSalle left Malaco after her husband, James Wolfe, joined the ministry. She recorded a gospel album on her own ‘Angel in the Midst’ label, but she 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.
LaSalle spoke at the funeral of her good friend, the legendary B.B. King. B.B.’s death inspired her to focus on blues education for younger generations and influenced her to revive the National Association for the Preservation of Blues (NAPOB), headquartered in Jackson.
Denise LaSalle was inducted into ‘The Blues Hall of Fame’ in Clarksdale, Mississippi, recognizing her life’s work LaSalle was also appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the state of Tennessee in 2015 by Gov. Bill Haslam. The town of Belzoni, Mississippi is planning to honor LaSalle with an annual Blues Festival and the cities of Gary, Indiana and Chicago hope to stage a Music Concert Series in LaSalle’s honor.