Little Willie Littlefield, the blues singer and boogie-woogie pianist who recorded the first version of the rock standard “Kansas City” and whose piano work influenced generations of rock and blues keyboardists, died June 23 in Leusden, the town in the Netherlands where he resided. He was 81.
The cause was cancer, his manager Rolf Schubert said.
Littlefield secured his place in blues and rock history before his 21st birthday with his 1952 recording of “K.C. Loving,” which attracted relatively little notice at the time. Seven years later, the simple blues with its infectious, foot-stomping shuffle beat, went to No. 1 in the pop charts as “Kansas City” in a punchier version by singer Wilbert Harrison closely modeled on Littlefield’s original.
Cover versions by the Beatles and others followed.