Linda Lewis, Backing Singer for David Bowie and More, Dead at 72
The news was confirmed on social media by her sister, Dee Lewis Clay. "It is with the greatest sadness and regret we share the news that our beloved beautiful sister Linda Lewis passed away today peacefully at her home," Clay wrote.
Lewis was born Linda Ann Fredericks in West Ham, an area of East London. She began acting at an early age, appearing in 1961's A Taste of Honey and as one of the screaming fans in the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night movie from 1964. She also performed "Dancing in the Street" with John Lee Hooker at a club outside London in the early '60s. "It was in the afternoon, it was 1961 and I was with my mum," Lewis later recalled in an interview with Blues & Soul. "My mum was like, 'Go on, get up there and sing!' I didn't even know who John Lee Hooker was! And she said, 'Go on, go and ask him!'" Hooker then introduced her to a musician named Ian Samwell, who in turn introduced her to manager Don Arden. It was around this time that she changed her last name to Lewis, a tribute to R&B singer Barbara Lewis.
Lewis recorded with a few groups in the late '60s — including White Rabbit and the Ferris Wheel — and also appeared at the first Glastonbury Festival, where she sang with Terry Reid and David Lindley. She signed a solo deal with Warner Bros. Records but focused much of her time working as a session musician, singing on Cat Stevens' Catch Bull at Four (1972), Bowie's Aladdin Sane (1973), Hummingbird's self-titled debut (1975), Rick Wakeman's Lisztomania (1975), Stewart's Blondes Have More Fun (1978) and Tonight I'm Yours (1981), among others.
One of her solo hits, a song she wrote called "Rock-a-Doodle-Doo," landed at No. 15 on the U.K. chart in 1973. "I was listening to Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro thinking, 'Ah, that's what I could do if I want to,'" Lewis said in 2018, recalling her shift to songwriting. "I'd been in soul revues, doing covers in my long frock, but I wanted to sing my own songs." An even bigger hit peaked at No. 6 two years later with a cover of "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)."
Listen to Linda Lewis' 'Rock-a-Doodle-Doo'
Lewis released six albums during the '70s and one more in the '80s before mostly retreating from public performances. She did appear at Glastonbury again in 1984 and resurfaced in 1992 to sing on Joan Armatrading's album Square the Circle.
"When I look back, I realize I’ve lived an extraordinarily rich life," Lewis wrote in her memoir [via The Guardian]. "Would I do it all again, given a chance? No. Would I do some of it again? Certainly."