Born in St. Louis in 1940, Bass was the daughter of gospel singer Martha Bass, and often traveled on her mother’s tours as a child. She shifted from Gospel to R&B at age 17, when she auditioned for the famed Chess Records as a duet artist. Her and duet partner Bobby McClure’s" hit Don't Mess Up a Good Thing," reached No. 5 on the R&B charts. Soon after, she co-wrote recorded “Rescue Me,” which went to No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 4 on the Billboard pop singles chart.
She constantly fought for artistic freedom and royalty rights for “Rescue Me”, reaching a settlement in the late 1980s. Having a few modest singles after that, Bass recorded a gospel album in 1995 "No Ways Tired," an effort which earned a Grammy nomination.
Fontella Bass was 72.