Billy Preston, the exuberant keyboardist who landed dream gigs with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and enjoyed his own series of hit singles, including "Outta Space" and "Nothing From Nothing," di
Billy Preston, the exuberant keyboardist who landed dream gigs with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and enjoyed his own series of hit singles, including "Outta Space" and "Nothing From Nothing," died today (June 6) at age 59.
Preston's longtime manager, Joyce Moore, said Preston had been in a coma since November in a care facility and was taken to a hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., Saturday after his condition deteriorated.
"He had a very, very beautiful last few hours and a really beautiful passing," Moore said by telephone from Germany. "He went home good."
Preston, who had battled chronic kidney failure, had undergone a kidney transplant in 2002, but the kidney failed and he has been on dialysis treatments ever since, Moore said earlier this year.
Known for his big smile and towering afro, Preston was a teen prodigy on the piano and organ, and lent his gospel-tinged touch to classics such as the Beatles' "Get Back" and the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking?"
He 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" and "With You I'm Born Again," a duet with Syreeta Wright.
His partnership with the Beatles began in early 1969 when friend George Harrison recruited him to play on "Let It Be," a back-to-basics film and record project that nearly broke down because of feuding among band members.
Preston not only inspired the Beatles to get along -- Harrison likened his effect to a feuding family staying on its best behavior in front of a guest -- but contributed a light, bluesy solo to "Get Back," performing the song with the band on its legendary "roof top" concert, the last time the Beatles played live. He was one of many collaborators sometimes labeled "The Fifth Beatle," a title he did not discourage.
Preston remained close to Harrison and performed at Harrison's all-star charity event "The Concert for Bangladesh," and at the "Concert for George," a tribute to Harrison, who died of cancer in 2001. He played on solo records by Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon.
Preston toured and recorded extensively with the Rolling Stones, playing on such classic albums as "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile on Main Street." In the mid-'70s, he parted from the Stones, reportedly unhappy over not getting proper credit for "Melody" and other songs, but reunited with the band in 1997 on its "Bridges to Babylon" record.
His sessions credits included Aretha Franklin's "Young, Gifted and Black," Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" and Sly and the Family Stone's "There's a Riot Goin' On," three of the most acclaimed albums of the past 35 years.
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