Obituaries: Weepin’ Willie Robinson, Ronald Johnson, Oscar Peterson and more

By  Associated Press

“Weepin’” Willie Robinson, a blues singer who performed with Steven Tyler and Bonnie Raitt but also spent time homeless, has died at age 81.

Robinson died Dec. 30, 2007, in a fire started by a cigarette he was smoking in bed, the Boston Fire Department said.

Robinson had been a friend of performers, including B.B. King. He had worked a benefit concert with Tyler and two Boston Music Awards shows, in 2005 and again earlier in December 2007.

Born in Atlanta, Robinson picked cotton and fruit with his family up and down the East Coast. After spending time in the U.S. Army in the 1940s, he became a master of ceremonies and doorman at blues clubs in Trenton, N.J., where he met King and other legends and eventually sang with King’s 21-piece orchestra.

Robinson settled in Boston in 1959 and played in clubs, but by 2005 he was living on the street and out of touch with his family. Blues performers learned of his situation, held a benefit concert and made sure he was fed and clothed.

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Music maven Ronald “Ronnie” Johnson, an executive vice president of Capitol Music Group, has died at age 49.

Johnson, who worked with artists such as Chingy and Fat Joe, succumbed to a heart attack at his Upper Nyack, N.Y., home on Dec. 30, 2007. He had been training for his first marathon when he suffered the attack, his second in two years, said his wife, Jackie Pack-Johnson.Doctors believed his death was related to an artery condition caused by a childhood illness, she said.

Johnson fell in love with the music business while growing up in Mobile, Ala. His mother was an on-air gospel personality; his stepfather was in record promotion.

He began at Reprise Records and later worked at Polygram Label Group, Island Records, Mercury Records and Motown Records. He moved to Atlantic Records in 1999 and went to Capitol early last year.

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Bill Strauss, 60, who founded the political satire group Capitol Steps, died Dec. 18, 2007, at his home in McLean, Va. He had been battling pancreatic cancer since 1999.

A Harvard-trained lawyer and Senate subcommittee staffer, Strauss got the idea to form Capitol Steps in 1981 after hosting a party that ended with a jam session around the piano in which party-goers riffed on parodies of Reagan-era newsmakers. Months later, the group debuted at the office Christmas party of Strauss’ employer, Sen. Charles Percy, R-Ill.

Capitol Steps initially consisted of Senate staffers who set out to satirize the people and places that employed them. They regularly performed for free at parties and in church basements. Today, Capitol Steps is a $3 million-a-year industry with more than 40 employees who sing and satirize at venues across the country. The group has recorded 27 albums.

Strauss also co-authored six books and co-founded Cappies, a high school critics and awards program focusing on the arts.

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Oscar Peterson, 82, whose early talent, speedy fingers and musical genius made him one of the world’s best known jazz pianists, died Dec. 23, 2007, at his home in the Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

During an illustrious career spanning seven decades, Peterson played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. He is also remembered for touring in a trio with Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar in the 1950s.

Peterson’s impressive collection of awards include all of Canada’s highest honors, such as the Order of Canada, as well as a Lifetime Grammy and a spot in the International Jazz Hall of Fame.

Born on Aug. 15, 1925, in a poor neighborhood southwest of Montreal, Peterson obtained a passion for music from his father. He learned to play trumpet and piano at a young age; a bout with tuberculosis forced him to concentrate on piano.

He became a teen sensation in his native Canada, but Peterson got his real break as a surprise guest at Carnegie Hall in 1949, after which he began touring and made a name for himself as a jazz virtuoso. In 2005, he became the first living person other than a reigning monarch to obtain a commemorative stamp in Canada.

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Joe Dolan, one of Ireland’s first pop music stars who entertained audiences for decades with Vegas-style showmanship, has died from a brain hemorrhage Dec. 26, 2007, his family announced. He was 68.

Dolan was the most celebrated survivor of Ireland’s bygone “showband” era of the 1960s and 1970s, when homegrown rock ‘n’ roll acts toured the country playing cover versions of international hits.

His biggest hit in 1969, “Make Me an Island,’’ reached No. 3 in Britain and No. 1 in 14 other countries. Other hits that climbed the European charts included “You’re Such a Good-Looking Woman,” “Lady in Blue’’ and “I Need You.” His last Irish No. 1 came in 1997, when he re-recorded “Good-Looking Woman’’ with a popular fictional TV comedian, a puppet named Dustin the Turkey.

Dolan was known for the power and quality of a voice that fell somewhere between Tom Jones and Tony Bennett. He kept touring and recording and was in the middle of a concert series in Dublin in November when he left the stage after just four songs, suffering from exhaustion.

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German avant-garde composer and pianist Hans Otte, 81, died Dec. 25, 2007, after a long illness.

Otte, born Dec. 3, 1926, in the eastern German town of Plauen, started playing the piano at age 5. He was trained in Germany, in Italy and at Yale University in the United States.

Otte’s own output ranged from musical theater to video productions, and included his minimalist piano work “Buch der Klaenge,” or “Book of Sounds,” first performed in 1982.

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Kansas City blues icon Annetta “Cotton Candy” Washington, 76, died Dec. 25, 2007, from complications from a stroke she suffered Dec. 15 while performing at a breast cancer benefit.

Washington performed regularly and actively supported local musicians. She and her band won two Best Blues Band contests in Kansas City and, in 1998, placed third in the International Best Blues Band Contest.

Washington was a founding member of the Kansas City Blues Society and was among the first women to be named an Elder Statesman of Jazz in Kansas City.

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