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Memphis legend takes ‘Taxi’ to soul heaven

J. Blackfoot: We will remember

Facebook pages and blogs lit up all over the city of Memphis as the news spread Wednesday (Nov. 30) that the Memphis Soul Legend we all know as “J. Blackfoot” had taken the “Taxi” to soul heaven.

 J. Blackfoot
 J. Blackfoot stirred a blast of blues energy at the 6th Annual Memphis Tri-State Blues Festival at the DeSoto Civic Center in 2008. (Photo by Warren Roseborough)

Born John Colbert in 1946 in Greenville, Miss., he acquired the nickname “Blackfoot” as a child for his habit of walking barefoot on the tarred sidewalks. After a long battle with cancer, he died at the age of 65.

“J Blackfoot was one of the greatest singers that ever lived,” said legendary bluesman Bobby Rush. “He did not do a lot of movement on stage, but the energy in his voice was amazing. Whether singing blues or R&B, you could feel his spirit in his tone and heart.”

Blackfoot’s impact on Soul Music is tremendous.

Did you know that after the plane crash claimed the lives of four members of the original Bar-Kays, for a little less than a year, J. Blackfoot joined the re-created group as the lead singer?

Then there were the Soul Children years from 1968 to 1978. This was a project that Isaac Hayes and David Porter created after the Stax Label lost “Sam & Dave” to Atlantic Records. The Soul Childen – Blackfoot, along with Norman West, Shelbra Bennett and Anita Lewis – recorded 15 charted R&B hits in a 10-year span, with such hits as “I’ll Understand,” “The Sweeter He Is,” and “Tighten Up My Thang.”

In 1983, came the huge hit “Taxi,” which was originally written for Johnny Taylor. The song not only hit the charts in the United States, but in the U.K, eventually crossing over into Billboard’s Hot 100.

Months ago at a tribute event put on by 103.5 radio personality Jackson Brown, Blackfoot was the honoree. During a performance by headliner Michael Cooper of the group Confunkshun, Cooper told a little story that a lot of people had not heard. Confunkshun, he said, started as a backup group for the Soul Children under the name “Project Soul.”

And with a heartfelt tone, Cooper said, “There would be no “Love’s Train,” no “My Baby’s House” no “Confunkshun” without J. Blackfoot.”

Rush said Blackfoot was “a spiritual man.”

“Losing him has left a void, but I know he’s in a better place. I would like to say to his family, keep your head up,” Rush said.

“I will always remember that J always had a smiling hello when you met him and a smiling goodbye when you left. In fact, he would be the one to pull things together when things weren’t going right. He would say, ‘come guys, we are all brothers.’”

Rush last worked with Blackfoot at the Tri-State Blues Show and then in September at the Delta Blues Show. They were scheduled for a New Year’s Eve show.  

“J was kind, easy to work with and an all around gentleman,” said Rush. “I will miss my good friend.”

Funeral arrangements are still pending.

(This story includes contributions from Tri-State Defender staff.)

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