Asha C. Gilbert, Savannah Morning News-Sun, January 31, 2021, 10:26 AM
Ed Fletcher, also known as Duke Bootee to the world of hip-hop, died Jan. 13 in his Savannah, Georgia, home at age 69 after battling congestive heart disease.
“Due to COVID, over the past year, he had been in the house and never came out again,” Fletcher’s close friend Phil Starks said. “Over time, it just got worse.”
Fletcher was best known for his work on Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s seminal hit “The Message,” according to oldschoolhiphop.com.
The song is number one on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time.
According to rollingstone.com, Fletcher served as a member of Sugar Hill Records’ house band alongside fellow New Jersey funk veterans like bassist Doug Wimbish, guitarist Skip Alexander, and keyboardist Jiggs Chase, the latter of whom recruited Fletcher for Sugar Hill Records.
In 1984, Fletcher recorded his solo album as Duke Bootee, “Bust Me Out.”
The following year, he formed his own label — Beauty and the Beat Records, which released his single “Broadway” — and appeared alongside Melle Mel on the all-star Artists United Against Apartheid single “Sun City.”
He wrote for, produced and mixed for artists like Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, P. Diddy, Dr. John and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones.
Fletcher grew up in Elizabeth, N.J. and came from a hip-hop environment. He got into teaching and was also a vice principal in New Jersey before coming to the South.
According to Starks, he and Fletcher became close friends after he moved to Savannah sometime around 2007. The two were introduced by mutual friends at the Indigo Sky Community Gallery.
The pair found out they had a lot in common and forged a strong friendship.
“We were like brothers,” Starks said. “Our families all loved music, books, theater and hanging out dancing.”
Fletcher was hired to teach critical thinking and communication at Savannah State University where many of his students remember him and his lessons.
“He loved his cigars, coffee, jazz and the beauty of his wife’s natural hair,” Fletcher’s former student Chelsea Caldwell said. “He gave us a whole lecture one time about embracing your natural self.”
Caldwell said Fletcher is one of the professors she will never forget – he helped her become confident in who she was by teaching her “natural was more beautiful.”
“He saw your true potential even if you didn’t see it in yourself at that moment. He taught in ways you didn’t even know you were learning,” Caldwell said. “Mr. Fletcher was one of the most authentic people with a lot of soul.”
In a statement, SSU said, “Savannah State University is saddened by the death of Edward Fletcher. He came to Savannah State University as a lecturer on Critical Thinking & Communication educating countless students after career in the music industry. In a 2015 interview for the student newspaper Tiger’s Roar, Professor Fletcher said education is his family’s business naming several members of his family who were educators including his mother and father. We are fortunate our students had an opportunity to hear his message to them. Our hearts go out to his wife Rosita and his entire family.”
Former student Danielle Brown said Fletcher didn’t just teach students, but also helped them.
“Although he taught by the book it was deeper than that,” Brown said. “I felt like he actually placed himself in my life as an Afro-American student and learned the way I learned and used it to help me.”
When he wasn’t teaching, Fletcher loved to talk and had jokes and stories for everyone he encountered. He was also dedicated to his wife, two children and five grandchildren.
“He was a proud father, grandfather and a dedicated husband,” Starks said. “He loved people.”
Due to the pandemic and Fletcher being at high-risk, Starks said sometimes they would go sit on his front lawn or talk over the phone. Fletcher lived only a couple of blocks from Starks.
“Over the last month there was steady decline in his health,” Starks said. ” His wife is a true hero and was a real nurse Betty staying with him day and night.”
Although Fletcher has passed, his students and friends remember the lessons and stories he told.
“We’ll always miss his stories,” Starks said. “We may have heard them 15 times, but they were always good.”