Signe Anderson, who fronted Jefferson Airplane on their debut, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, died on Jan. 28 at the age of 74. Coincidentally, it was the same day that one of the band’s guitarists, Paul Kantner, passed away.
The official cause of death has not yet been disclosed, but it’s known that she’d been fighting various cancers on and off since the mid-’70s. Airplane bassist Jack Casady wrote that she was moved into hospice care last week. “She was a real sweetheart with a terrific contralto voice coming from a solid folk background,” he added. “Listen to how she made the three part harmonies of JA Takes Off (first album) sound so thick … her wonderful tone between Paul’s and Marty’s [Balin]. A sad day …..for those of us still here.”
Anderson was born Signe Toly and raised in Portland, but moved to San Francisco as an adult. She was the first person recruited by Balin and Kantner for the folk-rock group they were forming. Within a few months of making their debut performance, they were signed to RCA, and Takes Off was released in September 1966.
By this point, Anderson had married Jerry Anderson and given birth. She soon realized the difficulty in trying to raise a child while on the road with a rock band and quit. Her last performance with the band was on Oct. 15, 1966 at the Fillmore in San Francisco, which was given an official release in 2010. The band replaced her with Grace Slick, with whom they rocketed to fame on the strength of their next album, Surrealistic Pillow.
She then moved back to Oregon and sang with a local band, Carl Smith and the Natural Gas Company, for many years. In the early ’90s she rejoined with Kantner and Casady in a re-formed version of the Jefferson Starship.
“One sweet lady has passed on,” Balin wrote on Facebook. “I imagine that she and Paul woke up in heaven and said “Hey what are you doing here? Let’s start a band” and no sooner then said Spencer [Dryden, Jefferson Airplane drummer] was there joining in!” Heartfelt thoughts to all their family and loved ones.”
“Signe was one of the strongest people I have ever met,” Jorma Kaukonen wrote on his blog. “She was our den mother in the early days of the Airplane … a voice of reason on more occasions than one … an important member of our dysfunctional little family. I always looked forward to seeing her when we played the Aladdin in Portland. She never complained and was always a joy. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest sister … You will always live in my heart…”