Joe Sample, Jazz Pioneer, Dies of Mesothelioma


Joe Sample, a musician who became a household name by pushing the limits of jazz music, died of mesothelioma on Sept. 12 in his hometown of Houston. He was 75.

The legendary keyboard player and composer is known as the founder of the Jazz Crusaders, a bebop ensemble that originated in his high school days. The group later dropped “Jazz” from its name and became known as The Crusaders — a band with a distinctive, amalgamated jazz, funk, blues and soul sound.

Although his family confirmed he died of mesothelioma, news reports do not explain how he developed the asbestos-related cancer that affects nearly 3,000 people a year in the U.S.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive disease that can affect the lungs, heart or abdomen. It is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos, which is a naturally-occurring mineral that was commonly used prior to the 1980s in insulation products in homes and public buildings.

The asbestos-related cancer has an unfavorable prognosis with an average life expectancy of nine to 24 months. It can take anywhere from 15 to 50 years after exposure before the symptoms become obvious and a diagnosis is made.

Reports also show Sample had suffered other serious health problems, including two heart attacks and bouts of fatigue caused by Epstein-Barr virus.

Sample’s Contribution to the Black Community and Jazz

The Crusaders’ name change signaled a new musical direction for the group and the introduction of electronic instruments into the jazz scene, including Sample’s keyboard.

The group was one the first to fuse many different sounds that once were separate genres.

Sample was a creative genius with no limits. For him, plugging in and making musical history wasn’t intimidating. His ear for catchy riffs and a true passion for making great, honest music, despite cultural norms, landed him opportunities to collaborate with classic performers, including Miles Davis, B. B. King, Eric Clapton, George Benson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Steely Dan and The Supremes.

Sample’s music was often inspired by the world and people around him.

“In the Sixties, we had emotion, passion and feeling in our music and I wrote a composition to support the sit-inners and marchers in the civil rights struggle,” Sample said during a 2012 interview with Jazz Times in 2012.

After the demise of The Crusaders in the late 1980s, Sample launched a career as a solo artist, releasing his “Ashes to Ashes” album, which focused on the struggles of blacks at the time and their efforts to save their communities.

As a composer, Sample wrote many successful songs, including “Street Life” and “One Day I’ll Fly Away,” which Nicole Kidman covered in the film “Moulin Rouge.”

Sample is survived by wife Yolanda; son Nicklas, a bassist who performed with him in the Creole Joe Band; sister Julia Goolsby; three stepsons, Justin, Jamerson III and Jordan Berry; and six grandchildren.

Other Celebrities Who Died of Mesothelioma

Although mesothelioma is usually associated with those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces or those who worked in blue-collar professions, like steel mills or shipyards, the disease continues to affect countless others outside those careers.

Over the past several years, the asbestos-related cancer has claimed the lives of many celebrities, including entertainers, government officials and even an Olympic gold medalist.

Prior to Samples’ death, actor Ed Lauter died of mesothelioma in October 2013. His wife is now suing several American conglomerate giants, including CBS Corporation, Ford Motor Company, Georgia-Pacific LLC and John CraneGarlock, EnPro Reach $480M Settlement for Asbestos Claims Inc., among others.

Lauter was diagnosed with mesothelioma in June 2013.

Actor Steve McQueen, football player and actor Merlin Olsen, and musician and songwriter Warren Zevon also died of mesothelioma.

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