Jesse Fortune, a South Side barber by day and a Chicago blues favorite by night, died early Monday morning after collapsing during a performance at a Southwest Side club Friday. He was 79.
Fortune was singing on stage at Gene's Playmate Lounge, 4239 W. Cermak Rd., when he collapsed, possibly from a heart attack, said the club's owner, Eugene Payton.
"He was performing and having a good time," Payton said. "I think maybe he got too excited because all of his old friends were there."
Fortune sang at Gene's and other small bars around the city frequently, according to Payton.
Fortune, of the 3800 block of west Jackson Boulevard, was born Feb. 28, 1930 in Mississippi. He moved to Chicago in 1952 and sang the blues for nearly 50 years at at South and West Side clubs, according to Delmark Records Promotions Director Kevin Johnson.
"He was such a sweet guy. His voice was so amazing," Johnson said. "He was an older gentleman but he had this really intense, powerful voice.
Fortune was known for covering B.B. King songs.
"He was very much influenced by B.B. King. He could sing B.B. King slow blues as well as anybody," said blues guitarist Dave Spector, who said his favorite BB songs were "Three O'Clock in the Morning" and "Sweet Sixteen.''
Spector produced Fortune's one album –- Fortune Tellin' Man -- which came out in 1993 on the Delmark label. Fortune was recently planning to record another album.
"He had some songs ready, but it didn't happen," Johnson said.
A tune he was probably most well known for became popular in 1963 -- "Too Many Cooks," which featured Buddy Guy on guitar, Johnson said. The song was written for Fortune by Willie Dixon and was later covered by Grammy-winning artist Robert Cray, according to Johnson.
"That was one of his hits and he would continue to sing it," Johnson said of the song.