Legendary pianist and composer Joe Sample passed away on Fri., Sept. 12 from complications due to lung cancer.
The exceptional keyboardist with an incredible ear for melody and chords was famous for his ability to improvise and constantly push his musical ability forward.
Born Joseph Leslie Sample on Feb. 1, 1939, the native of Houston’s “Fifth Ward” co-founded the pioneering jazz-fusion outfit, The Crusaders (originally The Jazz Crusaders).
Sample, whose career spanned five decades, effortlessly combined bebop, classical, soul, funk, blues, gospel, country and Latin elements into his compositions and performances.
Playing since age five, the Texas Southern University alumnus began his professional career on acoustic piano before taking up electric keyboards, becoming among the first musicians to adapt the instrument.
The Crusaders opened for The Rolling Stones and released over 40 albums. The band behind songs like “Soul Shadows” and “Put It Where You Want It” garnered numerous gold and platinum certifications up until the release of their final album, Life in the Modern World, in 1987.
The band’s 1979 single featuring Randy Crawford, “Street Life,” cracked Billboard’s pop top 40 chart, becoming The Crusaders’ biggest hit single. In 2003, Sample reunited with members Wilton Felder and Nesbert “Stix” Hooper to release Rural Renewal.
Coinciding with The Crusaders’ success, Sample became a household name as both a successful solo artist and sought after session musician. He released several best-selling albums like Rainbow Seeker (1978), Carmel (1979), The Hunter (1982) , Spellbound (1989) and Ashes to Ashes (1990).
In the studio as well as on-stage, the accomplished musician accompanied Marvin Gaye, Eric Clapton, Minnie Riperton, Joe Cocker, Lalah Hathaway, Quincy Jones, Steely Dan, Miles Davis, Hugh Masekela, Queen Latifah, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Tina Turner, Natalie Cole, Everything But the Girl, B.B. King, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, George Benson, Anita Baker and Andrae Crouch.
Sample’s work influenced a generation of young talent. De La Soul , 2Pac, and Arrested Development each sampled his heartfelt tune “In All My Wildest Dreams.” Actress Nicole Kidman performed “One Day I’ll Fly Away,” a piece written by Sample, in the film Moulin Rouge.
At the time of his death, Sample had been penning music and lyrics with Jonatha Brooke for a new musical, Quadroon, slated for performance by The Ensemble Theater of Houston. His last album, “Children of the Sun,” is to be released this fall.
Sample is survived by his wife, Yolanda and son, Nicklas, a jazz bassist with whom he occasionally performed. He also has three stepsons, Jamerson III, Justin and Jordan Berry, six grandchildren and a sister, Julia Goolsby.
Mr. Sample will be laid to rest on Fri., Sept. 19 in his hometown of Houston. He was 75.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.