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Linda Lewis, singer and famed backing vocalist, dies aged 72

British songwriter was known for her five-octave vocal range and work as a backing singer for the likes of David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Yusuf Islam

Linda Lewis, pictured here in London in 1976. The British singer has died aged 72.Photograph: John Mitchell/Getty Images

Linda Lewis, the British singer-songwriter whose career spanned more than four decades, has died at the age of 72.

Her family confirmed her death on Wednesday night, with her sister Dee Lewis Clay sharing the news on social media.

“It is with the greatest sadness and regret we share the news that our beloved beautiful sister Linda Lewis passed away today peacefully at her home,” she wrote. “The family asks that you respect our privacy and allow us to grieve at this heartbreaking time.”

Known for a five-octave vocal range, which saw her compared to Minnie Riperton and Mariah Carey, Lewis enjoyed both solo success in the 1970s and a long career of providing backing vocals for artists including David Bowie and Rod Stewart.

Born Linda Ann Fredericks in West Ham in 1950, Lewis attended stage school and dabbled in acting, appearing as a screaming fan in the first Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night in 1964.

When she signed to Polydor, she adopted Lewis as her surname in honour of singer Barbara Lewis. Her sisters, Dee Lewis and Shirley Lewis, also singers, and their mother would all later use the surname too.

A self-taught guitarist and keyboard player, she appeared at the first Glastonbury festival in 1970 and had four top-40 hits throughout the next decade – the first coming with Rock-a-Doodle-Doo which reached No 15 in the UK in 1973.

Her biggest hit came with It’s In His Kiss – a cover of a 1963 song later made famous by Cher as The Shoop Shoop Song.

She lived with a group of artists and musicians in a commune in Hampstead, in a house that was often visited by Yusuf Islam, then known as Cat Stevens, as well as Marc Bolan and Elton John.

She also toured with Islam and dated him on and off for several years, once writing that they fell out after he converted to Islam. “To put it kindly, he was searching for greater meaning in life. To put it bluntly, he was becoming a pain,” she wrote.

She married fellow musician Jim Cregan in 1977, but they divorced three years later, with Lewis writing: “We were apart too much – especially after Jim joined Rod Stewart’s band – and we were both unfaithful.”

Among the other big names for whom she provided backing vocals were Bowie (for his Aladdin Sane album) as well as Stewart, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, Rick Wakeman, Joan Armatrading and Jamiroquai.

Linda Lewis performs with Joss Stone at London’s Roundhouse in 2016. Photograph: Chiaki Nozu/WireImage

Her song Old Smokey was sampled by rapper Common in his 2005 hit Go!, which was produced by Kanye West. She also collaborated with Basement Jaxx on track Close Your Eyes.

She continued to perform until the end, with her last track Earthling, a collaboration with UK band the Paracosmos, released in March this year.

“When I look back, I realise I’ve lived an extraordinarily rich life,” Lewis wrote in her memoirs. “Would I do it all again, given a chance? No. Would I do some of it again? Certainly.”

In 2004, she married music agent Neil Warnock, who survives her.

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