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R&B pioneer Johnny Otis dies at 90

ALTADENA, Calif., Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Johnny Otis, bandleader, songwriter, producer, drummer, singer and rhythm and blues pioneer died at his Altadena, Calif., home, his manager said.

Otis had been in ill health for many years and was 90 when he died Tuesday, Terry Gould said.

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A cause of death has not been released.

Otis was born Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes in Vallejo, Calif., to Greek immigrant parents who ran a mom-and-pop grocery store in the black section of Berkeley and early on he realized being Caucasian was an accident of birth and at heart he was black, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"Yes, I chose," Otis told the Times in 1979, "because despite all the hardships, there's a wonderful richness in black culture that I prefer."

Veliotes' first profession gig was in 1941 playing drums for Count Otis Matthews from whom Otis took his performing name. By 1945, Otis was leading his own band and discovering the talent which would lead him to the nickname of the "Godfather of Rhythm and Blues," The New York Times reported Thursday.

Otis helped promote the careers of Little Esther Phillips, Little Willie John, Hank Ballard and Jackie Wilson and wrote hits for Gladys Knight as well as his own hit, "Willie and the Hand Jive."

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In the 1970s, Otis became an ordained minister and opened his own church in Los Angeles to preach, conduct charitable work and feed the homeless, The New York Times said.

Otis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

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