Published January 13, 2015
Singer and songwriter Willie Denson, perhaps best known for the hit "Mama Said," has died at the age of 69.
Denson, who died Saturday of lung cancer at his Columbus home, published more than 250 songs, some recorded by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Gene Pitney and the Ronettes. He also appeared on television shows such as "American Bandstand" and "Soul Train."
"Mama Said," co-written by Luther Dixon and sung by the Shirelles, who recorded four of his other pieces, reached No. 4 on the national charts in 1961.
Denson wrote the lyrics in memory of his deceased mother, Lillie. In a 1996 interview, he recalled her as someone "always happy, always smiling."
His family recalls him the same way.
"He was the kind of man who kept everyone's spirits up," said Ann Denson, his wife since 1960 and mother of his four children. "He loved to write poetry. He played the keyboard by ear and banged on his bongo drums when working on a song."
Denson also worked more than 30 years for the U.S. Postal Service in New York City, returning to Columbus in 1995.
In 2001, he won a $3 million Lotto Georgia jackpot, taking a $1.29 million cash option.
"Winning didn't change him a bit," said his daughter, Danette Powell. "There was no difference."