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Leroy Franklin, Maker Of First Texas Rap Record, Dies At 58

Leroy Franklin, who recorded what many believe is the first rap song in the state of Texas, died Monday in Austin, Franklin's label Heavy Light Records said. He was 58.

Heavy Light owner Noel Waggener said the cause was cancer, which had just been diagnosed in December and had been progressing rapidly. "He was a super-sweet guy and a talented cat," Waggener added.

A veteran of San Antonio R&B legend Mel Waiters' Mel Production Band, in 1981 Franklin recruited several of the Alamo City's top session musicians to record a song he had written called "Star Bird," a silky-smooth yet funky flight of fancy similar to Earth, Wind & Fire or the Emotions.

After recording that song, vocalist Jeanine Love didn't show up to record the B-side the next day, so Franklin took the instrumental track of "Star Bird" and recorded a spontaneous anti-drug rap that came to be known as "Star Bird II." This was barely a year after The Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," and Franklin's rap did well regionally although it never charted nationally.

After "Star Bird," Franklin recorded a session with Mickey Foster of Mickey and the Soul Generation and a single under the name Chinook. He left the music business in the mid-'80s to seek a "more stable income," according to Heavy Light, but continued performing and gained an entire new audience when the label reissued "Star Bird" in October 2009.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray