Friday, October 28, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Kansas City' Singer Dies At Age 65


SPENCER, N.C. - It took only a modest investment - $40 and 15 minutes - for Wilbert Harrison to come up with the biggest success of his musical career.

His "Kansas City," a variation of an old blues tune, became one of the most famous songs of the early rock 'n' roll era and yielded a crop of cover versions.

Mr. Harrison died Wednesday of a stroke. He was 65.

"Kansas City" topped the pop charts for two weeks in May 1959, was by far Mr. Harrison's biggest hit. And what a hit it was.

"I'm goin' to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come,

"I'm goin' to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come,

"They got some crazy little women there,

"And I'm gonna get me one . . ."

The list of bands that have done cover versions is long as a microphone cord. The Beatles did a version. James Brown did a version. Trini Lopez did a version. Ann-Margret did a version.

"It's one of the classics, no doubt," said Chris Beachley of the Wax Museum, a Charlotte, N.C., record store. "Just about any band there is knows how to do `Kansas City.' "

Mr. Harrison started performing at age 16 at clubs in his hometown of Charlotte. After four years in the Navy, he lived in Miami, where he won a local amateur show six straight times.

Mr. Harrison cut records over the next several years. They went nowhere and he moved back to Charlotte in 1956.

Two years later he was invited to come to New York and record a few songs for record-label owner Bobby Robinson. At the end of the session, Mr. Harrison paid $40 for 15 minutes of extra studio time to cut one more song: "Kansas City."

Mr. Harrison had one other Top 40 hit, "Let's Work Together" in 1970, and opened for Creedence Clearwater Revival on a tour that year.

He made records and performed into the 1980s.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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