We are sad to inform SoulTrackers that Leon Russell, the legendary singer and songwriter who, over an incredible seven decades, brought such classics as “This Masquerade,” “A Song For You” and “Lady Blue” to music fans, has died at age 74. He was a star in many genres, and, both as a recording artist and as a composer for other artists, delivered some of the most iconic R&B songs of the past half century.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma born Russell was already a guitar-playing prodigy by his mid-teens, when he moved to Los Angeles and began work as a session musician for a virtual who’s who of major stars, from the Rolling Stones to B.B. King to Frank Sinatra to George Harrison, with whom he worked for several years in the early 1970s.
In addition to being a session star, Russell began writing songs of incredible depth and perception, many of which have been recorded by hundreds of stars over the years. “Superstar” became a #1 hit for The Carpenters and later a soul hit for Luther Vandross. “This Masquerade” was the vehicle for George Benson’s incredible crossover success. And “A Song For You,” made popular by both the Temptations and The Carpenters, among others, still stands as a classic, chilling ballads of stardom and love.
In the 1970s, Russell established a solid recording career for himself in many genres, topping the country charts with “Heartbreak Hotel” (with Willie Nelson), and hitting the top 20 pop with “Tight Rope” and “Lady Blue” on his way to recording more than thirty albums. He also helped launch the careers of a young trio of brothers from his hometown of Tulsa: The Gap Band.
Russell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
Russell continued to write and record into his early 70s, issuing an album of duets with Elton John in 2009, and working with legendary producer Tommy LiPuma for 2014’s Life Journey. Russell toured following that release, and was most recently playing shows in 2016. He was an artist of incredible depth and longevity, and he has left us with a collection of songs that helped define the best music of the latter 20th Century.