"The Big Man" of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, saxophonist Clarence Clemons, has died at the age of 69, the New York Times is reporting. He succumbed in a Palm Beach, Fla., hospital to complications from a stroke he had suffered last Sunday.
From the beginnings of the E Street Band in 1972, Mr. Clemons played a central part in Mr. Springsteen's music, complementing the group's electric guitar and driving rhythms in songs like "Born to Run" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" with muscular, melodic saxophone hooks that echoed doo-wop, soul and early rock 'n' roll.
But equally important to the group's image was the sense of affection and unbreakable camaraderie between Mr. Springsteen and his sax man. Few E Street Band shows were complete without a shaggy-dog story about the stormy night the two men met at a bar in Asbury Park, N.J., or a long bear hug between them at the end of the night …
A former college football player, Mr. Clemons towered over Mr. Springsteen at 6 feet 4 inches and about 250 pounds — his self-evident nickname was the Big Man — and for most of its history he stood out as the sole black man in a white, working-class New Jersey rock band. (The keyboardist David Sancious, who is also black, played with the group until 1974.) Onstage he had almost as much magnetism as Mr. Springsteen, and even if much of his time was spent hitting a cowbell or singing backup, he could still rile a stadium crowd with a few cheerful notes on his horn.
SOURCE: The New York Times.
Clemons is survived by his fifth wife, Victoria, and four sons: Clarence Jr., Charles, Christopher and Jared.
If you never heard Clemons' iconic sax performances — or just want to reminisce — check out his sax solo from "Jungleland," below.
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Sheryl Huggins Salomon is senior editor-at-large of The Root and a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based editorial consultant. Follow her on Twitter.