Sylvester “Syl” Johnson, famed soul and blues singer known for creating what would become one of Hip-Hop’s most sampled songs, died at the age of 85 on Sunday (Feb. 6).
A statement confirming the tragic news from his family, including his daughter, R&B singer Syleena Johnson, reads, “A fiery, fierce, fighter, always standing for the pursuit of justice as it related to his music and sound, he will truly be missed by all who crossed his path. His catalog and legacy will be remembered as impeccable and a historical blueprint to all who experience it.”
Syl was known for his 1968 hit, “Come On, Sock It To Me,” his 1969 single, “Is It Because I’m Black,” his chart-topping 1957 gem, “Take Me To The River,” and the 1967 classic, “Different Strokes,” which has been sampled in Hip-Hop over 300 times by the likes of Eric B. & Rakim, Michael Jackson, Wu-Tang Clan, N.W.A., and more. His family shared, “His music served as the soundtrack for some of our most poignant moments in history.”
The Mississippi-born singer moved to Chicago as a teenager and picked up his love for the blues. After his peak in the ’70s, Johnson retired from music in the 1980s and founded the popular Chicago-area food chain Solomon’s Fishery. In 2019, Syl Johnson was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
The Johnson family didn’t reveal the blues legend’s cause of the death, but the news comes nearly a week after the death of his brother, fellow blues artist Jimmy Johnson (born James Earl Thompson), who passed at the age of 93 on Monday, Jan. 31.
Syleena Johnson took to Instagram to speak on her late uncle, Jimmy, and his impact on her personal and professional life. She wrote, “He was literally my favorite person on my father[‘s] side. […] He is a star, and everyone loved him. I wish I was closer to him, even though I have always felt connected to him through music. Music is me, my dad, and his language for certain.”
Listen to Syl’s timeless single, “Different Strokes,” below.