Obituaries

Amp Fiddler, Versatile Keyboardist, Singer and Mentor, Dies at 65

Amp Fiddler in performance at an electronic music festival in Detroit in 2016. He was a versatile keyboardist, a prolific session player and a mentor to younger musicians.Credit…Laura McDermott for The New York Times

Amp Fiddler, a former keyboardist with Parliament-Funkadelic who became a fixture of Detroit’s soul, funk and electronic music scenes, and whose tutelage of the young rapper J Dilla helped alter the trajectory of hip-hop, died on Dec. 18 in Detroit. He was 65.

His death, in a hospital after a long battle with cancer, was announced by his wife, Tombi Stewart.

Mr. Fiddler was a versatile keyboardist, equally adept at playing warm Fender Rhodes grooves or squiggly synthesizer arpeggios, skills honed during his decade with P-Funk, from 1986 to 1996. He was also a prolific session player, working with artists like Seal, Maxwell and Raphael Saadiq.

“The thing that I was always keen on as an artist was to leave my ego at home,” Mr. Fiddler said in a 2003 Red Bull Music Academy lecture. “I think that humility, having that sense of just being there for people and giving, is what got me more into getting more.”

Mr. Fiddler had a striking, stylish presence — he favored flamboyantly psychedelic attire and wore his hair either in an expansive Afro or sculpted vertically into a Mohawk — that could make him seem even larger than his 6-foot-2 frame. In the early 2000s he began recording under his own name on neo-soul albums like “Waltz of a Ghetto Fly” and “Afro Strut,” showcasing his raspy but soothing voice. He also played keyboards for numerous electronic music producers in Detroit, including Moodymann, Theo Parrish and Carl Craig.

But Mr. Fiddler’s most crucial role may have been as a bridge between generations of Detroit musicians — first as a wide-eyed wunderkind among veteran P-Funk players, then as a beloved mentor to the hip-hop and electronic music aspirants of the 1990s and 2000s. “It’s just so rare, especially in the entertainment business, to see figures who give without the expectation of getting something back,” Dan Charnas, the author of the 2022 book “Dilla Time,” said in an interview. “A generation of folks were blessed by Amp’s generosity.”

The most notable of these disciples was James Dewitt Yancey, better known as J Dilla. Mr. Fiddler lived near the high school attended by several members of a fledgling rap collective, one of whom — drawn by the music booming out of his basement studio window — knocked on the door to inquire whether Mr. Fiddler could help produce a demo tape.

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