Michael Henderson, an R&B singer and jazz fusion bassist who also played on Miles Davis’ records throughout the 1970s, has died, as first announced on his Facebook page. Henderson’s son, Michael Henderson Jr., told Pitchfork over the phone that his father died of cancer complications on the afternoon of Tuesday (July 19) at his home in Atlanta, Georgia. Henderson is survived by his son Michael and his daughters Michelle and Chelsea. Michael Henderson was 71 years old.
“Singer, Songwriter, Bass Innovator, Music Producer, Father and Son Michael Henderson has peacefully made his transition surrounded by family and loved ones today at his home, Atlanta Georgia,” reads the Facebook post. “Bless his heart and soul… He touched the lives of many and returned that love through his many live concerts, music recordings, social media, interviews and incessant touring which he loved.…”
Born in Yazoo City, Mississippi in 1951, Michael Henderson decided to pursue music after hearing Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and Elvis Presley as a child. By the early 1960s, he moved to Detroit, Michigan where he began playing as a session musician, primarily playing rock music. Once he fell under the tutorship of the Funk Brothers, the legendary funk group who recorded the backings of most Motown recordings in the 1960s, Henderson quickly fell in love with jazz and funk. He cited the band’s own James Jamerson in particular as a pivotal influence on his bass playing.
While Henderson was warming up for a show in Chicago years later, he caught the attention of Stevie Wonder and was promptly invited to go on tour with the legendary musician. From there, Henderson would go on to record with Miles Davis. Arguably his most popular work is on Davis’ early fusion albums, including 1971’s Jack Johnson and Live-Evil as well as 1975’s Agharta. As a staple of the jazz and soul scene at the time, Henderson also collaborated with Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, and the Dramatics, among others.
“Miles Davis was like a father to me,” Henderson told All About Jazz. “He saw me first with Stevie Wonder in New York and everybody was saying that it was Miles, and I didn’t know who Miles Davis was at the time. I was playing with Stevie Wonder and into the Motown thing. He said to Stevie, ‘I’m taking your fucking bassist.’ I don’t think Stevie heard him because he talked like that. The next thing I knew, I got a call from Miles and I asked my friend, ‘What do you know about this Miles guy?’ He said, ‘If Miles Davis is calling you, you better get your bass guitar and run.’ I showed up at his house, he flew me in that day. Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and John McLaughlin were in the house along with Herbie [Hancock]. They were getting ready to do a session the next day, which was Jack Johnson. That was my first record with Miles.”