Was (Not Was) singer Sweet Pea Atkinson dies at 74

Photo courtesy of Concord Records

(May 7, 2020) He was known in R&B circles for his one-of-a-kind, expressive voice, but it was his brief enlistment in a truly unusual pop and soul band that gave him his biggest audience. We are sad today to report the death of Sweet Pea Atkinson, an incredible vocalist who became a singing centerpiece of the 80s band Was (Not Was). He was 74.

Atkinson grew up in Detroit and became known locally for his incredible pipes. There he met Oak Park, Michigan native and super-producer Don Was, who was enraptured not only by Atkinson’s voice, but by his incredibly flamboyant, brightly colored clothing ensemble.

(May 7, 2020) He was known in R&B circles for his one-of-a-kind, expressive voice, but it was his brief enlistment in a truly unusual pop and soul band that gave him his biggest audience. We are sad today to report the death of Sweet Pea Atkinson, an incredible vocalist who became a singing centerpiece of the 80s band Was (Not Was). He was 74.

Atkinson grew up in Detroit and became known locally for his incredible pipes. There he met Oak Park, Michigan native and super-producer Don Was, who was enraptured not only by Atkinson’s voice, but by his incredibly flamboyant, brightly colored clothing ensemble.

Was recruited Atkinson to be co-lead singer (with Sir Harry Bowens) in the out-of-the-box act Was (Not Was). The group was a living contradiction, but was magic on the charts for a few years. “Walk The Dinosaur” (co-written by Atkinson) became one of the biggest hits of 1988 and “Spy In the House of Love” was nearly as big. Was also co-produced Atkinson’s debut album, 1982’s Don’t Walk Away, a modest hit but a critical fave.

While Was (Not Was) would reunite from time to time, Atkinson also stayed busy with other projects. He toured with Lyle Lovett, became part of Mindi Abair’s frequent band, The Boneshakers, and sang backup for dozens of other artists. And, in a bit of a surprise, Atkinson signed with Concord Records and released his second solo album, Get What You Deserve, in 2017, which we graded as "Recommended."

Sweet Pea Atkinson was not a household name, but his voice will be forever associated with some of the most ambitious and fun songs of the last 40 years. May he rest in peace.

 

Leave a comment!