Signe Anderson, Jefferson Airplane‘s original female vocalist who sang on the band’s 1966 debut LP Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, passed away January 28th. Anderson was 74. No cause of death was provided, but Psychedelic Sight reports that Anderson had suffered health issues in recent years, while her former band mate Jack Casady said she recently entered a hospice facility. Anderson’s death came the same day as her former band mate Paul Kantner, who passed away January 28th from multiple organ failure and septic shock.
Following news of Anderson’s death, the surviving founding members of Jefferson Airplane paid tribute to their one-time singer. “One sweet lady has passed on. I imagine that she and Paul woke up in heaven and said ‘Hey what are you doing here? Let’s start a band’ and no sooner then said Spencer was there joining in!,” Marty Balin wrote on Facebook, referring to the band’s late drummer Spencer Dryden. “Heartfelt thoughts to all their family and loved ones.”
Born in Seattle and raised in Portland, folk singer Signe Toly boarded Jefferson Airplane in the summer of 1965 after being asked to join the band by Balin following a San Francisco performance; soon after she would marry Merry Prankster Jerry Anderson.
Anderson would appear on the band’s debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, singing lead on that LP’s “Chauffeur Blues” and featuring prominently on their version of “Let’s Get Together,” the Chet Powers-penned track that would become a hit for the Youngbloods the next year.
Just as Jefferson Airplane was ascending, Anderson gave birth to her first child. Realizing that life on the road with a newborn was unfeasible, Anderson opted to part ways with Jefferson Airplane in 1966. Anderson remained with the group while they searched for a replacement, eventually choosing the Great Society singer Grace Slick, who brought that band’s “Someone to Love” (retitled “Somebody to Love”) and her “White Rabbit” to Jefferson Airplane.
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Anderson’s final Jefferson Airplane performance, an October 15th, 1966 late show gig at San Francisco’s Fillmore, was officially released as a live album in 2010. The following night, on October 16th, Slick made her Jefferson Airplane debut.
“Signe was one of the strongest people I have ever met,” guitarist Jorma Kaukonen wrote on his Cracks in the Finish blog. “She was our den mother in the early days of the Airplane… a voice of reason on more occasions than one… an important member of our dysfunctional little family. I always looked forward to seeing her when we played the Aladdin in Portland. She never complained and was always a joy. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest sister. You will always live in my heart…”
Bassist Jack Casady added on Facebook, “I was just informed of the passing of Signe Anderson, the same day as we lost Paul. Signe was our, Jefferson Airplane’s, first female singer. I had been in touch with Signe this past week as she had moved from her home to hospice care. She was a real sweetheart with a terrific contralto voice coming from a solid folk background. Listen to how she made the three part harmonies of JA Takes Off (first album) sound so thick…her wonderful tone between Paul’s and Marty’s. A sad day… for those of us still here.”