The singer Signe Anderson was one of the original members of Jefferson Airplane, but she left the band after its first record and was replaced by Grace Slick. She died on the same day as another of the band's founders, Paul Kantner (Independent obituary, 30 January). Anderson, 74, who survived cancer in her thirties, had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Born Signe Toly in Seattle and raised in Portland, Oregon after her parents divorced, she was a folk and jazz singer who had performed in groups since high school. She moved to San Francisco in her twenties and began appearing at a popular folk club, the Drinking Gourd.
Vocalist Marty Balin heard her sing and asked her to join what became Jefferson Airplane, who in 1966 released The Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Strongly influenced by the folk-rock sound of the time, Takes Off was a word-of-mouth hit that combined original songs and covers, including a showcase for Anderson and her soulful contralto, “Chauffeur Blues”.
But by the time the album came out, Anderson had given birth to her first child and she left after a farewell concert at the Fillmore in October 1966. The switch from Anderson to Slick, formerly of the San Francisco group the Great Society, proved momentous for the Airplane and for rock history. Slick brought with her two future standards, “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit”, and a fierce vocal style and confrontational attitude that departed notably from Anderson's.
The next album, Surrealistic Pillow, was a landmark of psychedelic rock that made the Airplane superstars and representatives of the San Francisco Sound. “You have to look at the priorities in your life, the reality in your life,” Anderson said in 2011, remembering the ordeals of bringing her baby on tour. “I had to wait in the San Francisco airport in July 1966 for 36 hours before we got on the airplane and flew to Chicago. All the diapers were gone. I don't regret having left.”
Anderson was a footnote in the Airplane's history, but was regarded with respect and affection by fans and stayed in touch with Kantner, Balin and other band members, with whom she performed on occasion over the following decades. Bassist Jack Casady remembered her as “a real sweetheart with a terrific contralto voice” while Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen wrote that Anderson was “our den mother in the early days of the Airplane”, a voice of reason for “our dysfunctional little family”. Balin imagined that she and Kantner “woke up in heaven and said, 'Hey what are you doing here? Let's start a band'.”
Anderson was married twice, to Merry Prankster Jerry Anderson and to Michael Alois Ettlin, who died in 2011.
Signe Toly, singer: born Seattle 15 September 1941; married firstly Jerry Anderson (marriage dissolved), secondly Michael Alois Ettlin (died 2011), two children; died Beaverton, Oregon 28 January 2016.