He was known as the “Abyssinian Elvis,” a native of the Bahamas who rose to fame after going electric onstage in the popular 1960s song “Tutti Frutti.”
I can’t help but think that sowing the seed of Abel without flowers grown would have been too much to ask for,” Gene Autry once said of singer Lem Amis, who “composed the words for ‘Tutti Frutti’ and wrote, directed and sang it with his brother, Arthur, while performing in the Bahamas. ‘Tutti Frutti’ became an ode to the Caribbean rather than a song about a car salesman in Los Angeles. Amis sang lead on all seven songs off the album ‘The Bronx of the Bahamas,’ composed by their father, Bob Wills.”
Lem Amis, who, at 10, was one of the youngest singers ever to be accepted by the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, as reported in the Times
He died on Friday night in Miami. A cause of death has not been announced. He was 80.
Amis’ family, living out their own original country musical traditions of the Bahamas, were open to an American approach to entertainers, like Elvis Presley. Two years after the brothers began performing on cruise ships, and the “Beale Street Blues” and “Jambalaya” were ubiquitous, Lem recorded on the RCA and Decca record labels, releasing some ten singles in the late 1960s, Rolling Stone reported. He performed with Al Green and Martha Reeves, among others.
Amis also wrote songs and solo albums for his own group, Lem Amis & the Legendrs, an eclectic outfit that was seen as a precursor to the New Orleans-based Creole funk band the Meters. The band performed on “The Tonight Show” in 1967, Rolling Stone reported.
Lem Amis was also a photographer who shot for The Believer and other publications.