"Weepin'" Willie Robinson, a blues singer who performed with Steven Tyler and Bonnie Raitt but also spent time homeless, has died at age 81.
Robinson had been a sharecropper, an Army veteran and a friend of performers, including B.B. King.
"He was truly the elder statesman of the (Boston) blues. He was our godfather. He was the most dear man," Holly Harris, host of "Blues on Sunday" on WBOS radio, told The Boston Globe for Monday's editions.
When he sang, "you knew he meant it because he had passion," Harris said.
Robinson died Sunday in a fire started by a cigarette he was smoking in bed, the Boston Fire Department said.
He had worked a benefit concert with Tyler and two Boston Music Awards shows, in 2005 and again earlier this month.
Robinson was born in Atlanta and picked cotton and fruit with his family up and down the East Coast. After spending time in the Army in the 1940s, he became a master of ceremonies and doorman at blues clubs in Trenton, New Jersey, where he met King and other legends and eventually sang with King's 21-piece orchestra.
His daughter, Lorraine Robinson, told the Globe her father found his place on stage.
"A great smile would come on his face and he would be in his own little world, like he'd tune everything out," she said. "He just, like, felt the music. It was so much in his soul."
Robinson settled in Boston in 1959 and played in clubs, but by 2005 he was living on the street and out of touch with his family. Blues performers learned of his situation, held a benefit concert and made sure he was fed and clothed.
Robinson later performed everywhere from local clubs to the hallways of the rest home where he lived.
His wife, Alice, died four decades ago.