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

Say farewell to bluesman Weepin' Willie Robinson, Capital Music VP Ronald Johnson, Capitol Steps founder Bill Strauss, jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, Irish pop artist Joe Dolan, avant-garde composer Hans Otte and blues icon Anetta "Cotton Candy" Washington.

“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.


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.


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.


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 In