Musician Johnny Otis, the man known as the “godfather of rhythm and blues,” has died, his manager confirmed Thursday. He was 90. Otis’s first foray into the music world was in the 1940s, when he was part of a 16-member band that combined jazz, gospel, and the blues. In 1948, he and a partner opened an R&B nightclub in the Watts section of Los Angeles, and Otis became a DJ on a local radio station. In the 1970s, he began a local television program that continued into 2005. He helped foster such talent as Etta James, Jackie Wilson, Esther Phillips, and Big Mama Thronton—whose version of “Hound Dog” came out four years before Elvis Presley's and featured Otis on drums. As a musician—he played drums, piano, and vibraphone—he contributed to dozens of songs on the Billboard R&B Top 40.
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