King Curtis: Age 37 | Cause Of Death: STABBING

King Curtis

(b. Curtis Ousley, 7 February 1934, Fort Worth, Texas, USA, d. 13 August 1971, NYC, NY, USA)

A respected saxophonist and session musician, Curtis appeared on countless releases, including those as disparate as Buddy Holly and Andy Williams. Curtis did venture to the Fame and American studios, but he preferred to work in New York. ‘In the South you have to restrain yourself to make sure you come back alive’, Ousley said to writer Charlie Gillett. Six months later, in August 1971, he was stabbed to death outside his 50 West 86th Street apartment building.  

“Saxophonist King Curtis lived [at 50 West 86th Street] in 1971 and he was stabbed to death in a skirmish with two junkies in the front of the foyer, whom he climbed over while bringing in an air conditioning unit for his apartment. The neighborhood must have been rougher then!” ~Anne

“Around midnight on August 13, 1971 Curtis was lugging an air-conditioning unit towards his brownstone apartment on West 86th Street in New York City when he noticed two junkies were using drugs on the steps to his home. When he asked them to leave, an argument started. The argument quickly became heated and turned into a fist-fight with one of the men, 26-year old Juan Montañez. Suddenly, Montañez pulled out a knife and stabbed Curtis in the chest. Curtis managed to wrestle the knife away and stab his assailant four times before collapsing. Montañez staggered away from the scene and Curtis was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, where he died from his wounds less than an hour later.

Montañez was arrested at the same hospital Curtis had been taken to. When police officers investigating the murder learned that another man had been admitted to Roosevelt hospital with stab wounds around the same time as Curtis, they quickly realized that the two events were connected. Montañez was charged with Curtis’ murder and subsequently sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

On the day of Curtis’ funeral Atlantic Records closed their offices.Jesse Jackson administered the service and as the mourners filed in, Curtis’s band ‘The Kingpins’ played “Soul Serenade”. Amongst those attending were Aretha Franklin, Cissy Houston, Brook Benton and Duane Allman. Franklin sang the closing spiritual “Never Grow Old” and Stevie Wonder performed “Abraham, Martin & John and now King Curtis”.

Curtis was subsequently buried in a red granite-fronted wall crypt in the ‘West Gallery of Forsythia Court’ mausoleum at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale, New Jersey, the same cemetery that holds Jazz greats Count Basie and John Coltrane. “~ Wikipedia

“Like most musicians, Curtis was more five-to-nine. By the early ’70s he was Aretha’s musical director and working on John Lennon’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” album. In June 1971 he cut a live album at the Montreux Jazz Festival before returning to New York, where, on Aug. 14, he was tending to the apartment building he had just bought on 50 W. 86th St.

AROUND 11:30 p.m., according to early police reports, he was coming out of the building. Later reports said he was trying to carry an air conditioner in. Early reports say he ran into a man and woman sitting on the steps. Later reports say two junkies were arguing.

Whatever the logistics, Curtis – who had a temper – got into a fight with Juan Montanez, an ex-con and methadone user. As Curtis pummeled him, Montanez pulled a knife and plunged it into the larger man’s chest. Curtis grabbed the knife and chased Montanez off, then collapsed. A half hour later, he was pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital.

At his funeral on Aug. 18, his band played an hour-long version of “Soul Serenade.” Franklin and Stevie Wonder sang and Jesse Jackson preached the eulogy. When it came time to say goodbye, everyone finally knew King Curtis’ name.” ~ BY DAVID HINCKLEY, NY DAILY NEWS