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Michael Henderson, Funk Bassist Turned Crooner, Dies at 71

Michael Earl Henderson was born on July 7, 1951, in Yazoo City, Miss., and moved to Detroit with his mother, Rose Williams, who sang in church, and his stepfather, Earl Henderson, when he was young. During his childhood, he played cello and then switched to bass. Precociously talented, he was performing with local bands before his 12th birthday.

“Mom was always cool with the noise I was making in the basement and backyard, and later as I began playing in the local bar scene,” he said in the liner notes. When he was 10 or 11, he saved enough money to take a bus to see a bill of Motown artists at the Fox Theater.

“I told myself, ‘One day, I’m going to be onstage with all those artists,’” he said.

Mr. Henderson was a sideman until 1976 — the year his time with Davis ended — when the jazz drummer and bandleader Norman Connors invited him to write and record a song for his album “Saturday Night Special.” He sang that song, “Valentine Love,” with Jean Carne. Mr. Henderson wrote and sang on the title song of Mr. Connors’s next album, “You Are My Starship,” and sang a duet with Phyllis Hyman on his song “We Both Need Each Other.”

After making a deal with Buddah Records in 1976, Mr. Henderson’s transformation into a sexy crooner and songwriter continued. The cover of his 1981 album, “Slingshot,” showed him on a beach wearing a tiny aqua swimsuit.

When Mr. Henderson appeared at the Roxy Theater in West Hollywood in 1979, Connie Johnson, a pop critic for The Los Angeles Times, wrote that he “isn’t a platinum sex symbol in the manner of Teddy Pendergrass — yet,” adding, “Currently, he’s in the same league as Peabo Bryson and Lenny Williams.”

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