Legendary saxophone player King Curtis was stabbed to death today (August 13, 1971), in front of his brownstone in Harlem, New York.
King Curtis, born Curtis Ousley, was just 36-years-old, when a tragic confrontation took place that would ultimately take his life.
Curtis was hosting a small gathering at his recently-renovated, eight-family brownstone in Harlem, when a guest asked him to turn down the air conditioner, which was located in the basement of the building.
When King Curtis went downstairs, a drug addict was on his stoop. When King Curtis asked the junkie to move, a fight ensued.
Juan Montanez, 26, pulled out a knife and stabbed King Curtis in the heart. King Curtis, who stood over six-feet tall, wrestled the knife away from Montanez and stabbed him several times.
King Curtis died before he reached Roosevelt Hospital, where Montanez was also treated for his wounds and eventually charged with homicide.
More than 2,000 people attended King Curtis’ funeral at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Midtown Manhattan.
A number of important figures attended the services, including Aretha Franklin, her father C.L. Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Brook Benton, The Isley Brothers and Rev. Jessie Jackson, who delivered the eulogy.
King Curtis is still by far, the most influential saxophone player in the history of R&B and Rock & Roll music.
King Curtis played on thousands of records as the most in demand saxophone player, from the early 1950s until his death in August of 1971.
He worked with a wide variety of artists ranging from The Coasters and Buddy Holly, to Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon.
King Curtis began playing the saxaphone at a young age in Fort Worth, Texas. He turned down a scholarship to pursue an opportunity as a member of Lionel Hampton’s touring band.
In 1952, King Curtis moved to New York to become one of the most in-demand session players, where his famous style of playing can be heard on classic songs like “Yakety Yak” by The Coasters, “Twistin’ the Night Away” by Sam Cooke, “Tossin’ and Turnin’ By Bobby Lewis and numerous others.
In 1961, King Curtis released his own hit record with The Noble Knights titled “Soul Twist,” which landed at #1 for two weeks in April of 1962.
In 1965, he signed with Atlantic Records’ Atco imprint and in 1967, King Curtis hit big with the singles “Memphis Soul Stew” and “Ode To Billie Joe,” while also leading Aretha Franklin’s backing band, The Kingpins.
Just months before King Curtis was stabbed, he was featured as a guest on John Lennon’s landmark album Imagine.
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