R&B singer Syl Johnson is dead at 85. He passed away only six days after the death of his older brother, Jimmy Johnson. Johnson’s 1967 single “Different Strokes” has been sampled by numerous artists throughout the decades.
No cause of death was given in a statement by his family, who called him a “legend.”
“It is with extreme sadness that our family announces the passing of Soul & Blues Hall of Fame legend Syl Johnson (born Sylvester Thompson in Holly Springs, MS). Dad, Brother, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, Uncle, Friend & Artist, he lived his life as a singer, musician, and entrepreneur who loved black music.”
Syl Johnson: A Life Well Lived
Syl Johnson was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1936. He was an American blues and soul singer and record producer. He made a name for himself in the 1960s and 1970s with the Chicago label “Twinight,” which released his 1968 debut album, “Dresses Too Short.” It was that album that featured the legendary hit “Different Strokes.”
His hit song was sampled in numerous influential works, including Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Wu-Tang Clan’s “Shame On A N—a,” Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul,” Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “The Joy” featuring Curtis Mayfield, De La Soul’s “The Magic Numbers,” and many more. WhoSampled reports that over 300 songs have sampled portions of Johnson’s hit song!
That being said, Johnson was also fiercely protective of his work. In 2011, he sued Jay-Z and Kanye West for using portions of his song without permission. He also sued Michael Jackson, Cypress Hill, and several others for sampling his work without permission.
Through the years, Johnson released a dozen successful R&B albums, including “Is It Because I’m Black,” “Back for a Taste of Your Love,” “Uptown Shakedown,” and “Bridge to Legacy.”
In 2010, Numerou Group released a box set of his work called the “Complete Mythology.” This earned Johnson two Grammy nominations: one for Best Historical Album and one for Best Liner Notes.
Fans who want to learn more about Johnson can check out the documentary about his life, titled, “Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows.” It featured an original score by Yo La Tengo and featured interviews with RZA, De La Soul’s Prince Paul, Jonathan Lethem, and many others!
Syl Johnson Remembered: ‘One Of The Chicago Soul Greats’
Many paid tribute to the late Syl Johnson for his contributions to the music industry.
‘The dark brown shades of my skin, only add colour to my tears
That splash against my hollow bones, that rocks my soul’
Saddened to hear of the passing of Syl Johnson, one of the most sampled artists in American soul music and master of an extensive and important body of work. pic.twitter.com/w7MjXQGQ6K
— Rough Trade (@RoughTrade) February 7, 2022
Another legend gone. RIP Syl Johnson. I was lucky to chat to Syl a few years ago for Jocks & Nerds. One of those interviews I never thought we’d pull off and one I’ll never forget. pic.twitter.com/wrvAv4XJsH
— andy thomas (@andythomasx) February 7, 2022
Syl Johnson, RIP. One of the Chicago soul greats, on the key to his longevity: “I was good. Like Obama — he was a community organizer, right? — I knew how to organize. You couldn’t organize and be a whiskey head.”https://t.co/9mVS96xOsM pic.twitter.com/2tWKpakBsS
— Greg Kot (@gregkot) February 6, 2022
— Rhythm and Blues Preservation Society (@rbps18) February 7, 2022
— Record Kicks (@RecordKicks) February 7, 2022
— Rayceen Pendarvis, HRH 👑 (@RayceenHRH) February 7, 2022
We lost one of the great ones yesterday
Syl Johnson RIP pic.twitter.com/Vn6Oj7Ml5Y
— gordoid (@gjh2541) February 7, 2022
Syl Johnson, July 1, 1936- February 6, 2022.
Sock it to ’em wherever you end up next, old friend. pic.twitter.com/d0wv4mQ4OW
— numerogroup (@numerogroup) February 6, 2022
RIP to one of the great musicians of our time. Syl Johnson’s influence can be felt in soul music of today, R&B, hip-hop and more. True visionary and singular talent. pic.twitter.com/79xsYX25aY
— Sunday Spins (@sunday_spins) February 6, 2022
RIP Syl Johnson. We have made the documentary available to rent for the first time today in his memory. Link in bio. It was a great honor to know him and tell his story. His incredible music will live on forever ❤️🙏🏽😭 pic.twitter.com/UGEzIP1OTt
— puloma basu (@pulomabasu) February 6, 2022