When Koko Taylor died nine years ago, the title “Queen of the Blues” was bestowed on Denise LaSalle. Then LaSalle died in January of this year and the title has been vacated, at least for the time being.
LaSalle had the classic upbringing for a blues singer. She was born in Mississippi to a family of sharecroppers. She took the well-trod road north to Chicago when she was 13 and moved in with an older brother. Like many southern singers, LaSalle was influenced by both country and blues music. She began to make her name in R&B circles around the Windy City and in 1967 she signed with the legendary Chess Records label. “Love Reputation” was her first single for the label and while it was not a huge national hit, it did show some promise regionally.
It was her third single, “Trapped By a Thing Called Love,” that had the magic. By the time it was released in 1971, LaSalle had moved on to the Detroit-based Westbound Records. The song, which was written LaSalle, was a huge hit for her, topping the R&B chart, reaching #13 on the pop chart, selling a million copies, and earning the singer a Gold Record. The record was co-produced by LaSalle and her then-husband Bill Jones.
The following year, LaSalle scored again with “Now Run and Tell That,” and “Man Sized Job” both of which were Top 5 R&B singles and made the pop chart as well. All of LaSalle’s early hits were recorded at Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records in Memphis. In 1975, LaSalle left Westbound for ABC Records where she scored another Top 10 R&B hit with “Love Me Right” in 1977. When ABC Records was sold in 1978, the new label, MCA, dropped LaSalle mostly because they didn’t know how to market black music.
Malaco Records came calling shortly thereafter and LaSalle began a long and successful career with the label. Over the course of more than 20 years with Malaco, LaSalle released 11 highly regarded albums for the label. Eventually, LaSalle moved on from Malaco and made two gospel albums for Ordena Records before returning to secular music with three albums for Ecko Records.
More than ten years after she left the label, LaSalle returned to Malaco in 2010 and released the album 24 Hour Woman. During this time LaSalle continued to perform and was a popular artist at blues festivals. She was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2015.
Denise LaSalle, the “Queen of the Blues,” died on January 8, 2018, at the age of 78.