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Billy Preston Passes Away After Lengthy Illness

Published // 21.Jun.06

Billy Preston, died of kidney failure 6 June 2006, in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 59, and had been in a coma for the past eight months.

Billy was born in Houston, Texas on 2 September 1946 but grew up in Los Angeles. He began playing piano at three. While a youngster, he directed a 100 voice church choir and began to play organ. At 10, he was performing with Mahalia Jackson. Two years later, he made his film debut portraying the young W.C. Handy in St. Louis Blues. It was during a tour of England with Ray Charles that Billy met up with George Harrison of The Beatles. He had initially met them in Germany earlier in the 1960s. He became known as the Fifth Beatle due to his participation in recording sessions for Let It Be and their final live performance, the famous Rooftop Concert.

Billy had a number of solo hits including, Will It Go Round in Circles, That's The Way God Planned It, Outta Space and With You I'm Born Again.

He first worked with Eric Clapton in the spring of 1970. George Harrison brought Eric into the studio to play on sessions for Billy's album, Encouraging Words. In 1971, they performed together at the Harrison-organized Concert For Bangladesh. In 2000, Eric invited him to play on sessions for Reptile. Billy toured with Eric for portions of the 2001 and 2004 World Tours. He also played on recording sessions for Eric's most recent CD, Back Home.

Billy took part in the tribute concert for George Harrison, Concert For George, which was organized by Eric for their mutual friend.

A funeral service was held on 20 June 2006 in California.

Billy Preston laid to rest
June 21, 2006
INGLEWOOD, California (AP)
-- Joe Cocker sang, Little Richard reminisced, and hundreds of friends and relatives of Billy Preston celebrated his musical legacy Tuesday during a funeral as vibrant as Preston himself.

A brass band played a rollicking version of "Amazing Grace" during a service filled with tributes to the prolific songwriter and keyboardist who played with the Beatles so often he was sometimes called the fifth member of the band.

Preston died June 6 at a hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona, at age 59. He battled chronic kidney failure, received a kidney transplant in 2002 and had been in a coma since November.

"He made that piano walk and talk," said Little Richard, who discovered Preston, then in high school, took him on tour in the early 1960s and introduced the teen prodigy to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

"There's nobody in this world who could play the piano like Billy Preston," Little Richard told the crowd in the Faithful Central Bible Church's Tabernacle Worship Center.

Earlier, Cocker elicited shouts and thunderous applause when he sang the ballad "You Are So Beautiful" -- written by Preston but made famous by the raspy-voiced singer.

A gospel choir clad in bright red sang throughout the almost three-hour service. Other musical performers included Preston's longtime gospel troupe, former Temptations lead vocalist Ali Woodson and singer Merry Clayton.

The mourners also heard letters written by Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and others who toured and recorded with Preston.

"I am deeply saddened to lose such a wonderful friend," McCartney wrote. "I love you Billy."

Bonnie Raitt, also in a letter, said Preston was "one of the most soulful artists I ever knew."

Besides a robust solo career, and his work with the Stones and the Beatles, Preston performed in recording sessions with Aretha Franklin, Sly and the Family Stone and Bob Dylan.

He lent his gospel-tinged touch on piano and organ to classics such as the Beatles' "Get Back" and the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking?"

Known for his ample Afro and gap-toothed grin, Preston broke out as a solo artist in the 1970s, winning a best instrumental Grammy in 1973 for "Outta Space," and scoring other hits with "Will It Go 'Round In Circles," "Nothing From Nothing."

His duet with Syreeta Wright, "With You I'm Born Again," became a favorite at weddings.

In 1975, Preston sang on the debut of "Saturday Night Live." Last year he appeared on "American Idol."