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Remembering Joseph Leslie 'Joe' Sample

On this edition of In Black America, producer & host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with the late Joe Sample.

Sample was a pianist, keyboard player and composer, who became a jazz star in the 1960s with the Jazz Crusaders and an even bigger star a decade later when he began playing electric keyboards and the group simplified its name to the Crusaders.

The Jazz Crusaders, who played the muscular, bluesy variation on bebop known as hard bop, had their roots in Houston, where Sample, the tenor saxophonist Wilton Felderand the drummer Nesbert ‘Stix’ Hooper began performing together as the Swingsters while in high school.

Born Joseph Leslie Sample on February 1, 1939, in Houston, Texas. Sample began to play the piano at age five. He was the fourth of five siblings, including an older brother who played in a band led by blues saxophonist Earl Bostic.

The Houston native met a trombonist at Texas Southern University and added him, bassist Henry Wilson and flutist Hubert Laws to the group, which changed its name to the Modern Jazz Sextet.

The band worked in the Gulf Coast area for several years without much success until Sample, Felder, Hooper and Henderson moved to Los Angeles and changed their name to the Jazz Crusaders. Their first album, “Freedom Sound,” released on the Pacific Jazz label in 1961.

In the early 1970s, as the audience for jazz declined, the band underwent yet another name change, this one signifying a change in musical direction. Augmenting their sound with electric guitar and electric bass, with Sample playing mostly electric keyboards, the Jazz Crusaders became the Crusaders. Their first album under that name, “Crusaders 1,” featuring four compositions by Sample, was released on the Blue Thumb label in 1972.

In addition to his own recording, Sample toured and performed with numerous musical greats in all genres, including Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, BB King, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Randy Crawford (who sang on the 1979 Crusaders smash "Street Life"), Anita Baker, Andrae Crouch and many others.

By returning to the roots of his own musical influence, Sample's Soul Shadows gives us a unique reflection and chronicle of traditional American music at its best.

Joe Sample died on September 12, 2014, in Houston, TX. He was 75.

John L. Hanson is the producer and host of the nationally syndicated radio series In Black America. It’s heard on home station KUT at 10 p.m. Tuesdays and 6:30 a.m. Sundays — and weekly on close to 20 stations across the country. The weekly podcast of IBA, the only nationally broadcast Black-oriented public affairs radio program, is one of KUT’s most popular podcasts.