Influential East St. Louis soul singer and song writer David Dee dies

David Dee, an influential East St. Louis soul singer, guitarist and bandleader, has died. He was 84.

Lesley Withers, a daughter of Dee, shared news of his death Wednesday.

Dee’s music career spanned more than five decades, during which he thrived as a charismatic and versatile performer.

“He is simply a blues giant whose fingerprint and impact is crucial and beneficial to the story of St. Louis music and American music,” said Alonzo Townsend, son of blues great Henry Townsend and a music promoter and artist manager in St. Louis.

Dee was a prolific recording artist but placed a priority on his live performances. He thrived on interaction with his audiences and enjoyed putting new spins on his songs, said Bernie Hayes, a former radio broadcaster who had known Dee since the 1960s.

“He was self-trained, and he would study via experimenting with different notes, different chords and different changes, and that’s what made him so special,” said Hayes, executive director emeritus of the National Blues Museum. “But it was always great every time it came out. It was beautiful.”

Born in Greenwood, Mississippi, Dee moved to East St. Louis with his family as a child. He fell in love with music early in life, in church, and focused on working as a musician after returning to the region following a stint in the Army.

One of his early groups was David and the Temptations. Dee played bass in the bands of Howlin’ Wolf and Albert King but excelled as a guitarist. He scored his biggest hit in 1982 with “Going Fishing.” The track is a collaboration with St. Louis saxophonist and record producer Oliver Sain.

“He was confident in his performance and honest, and that’s what it is for soul and rhythm and blues, it’s just, it’s from the heart,” BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups managing partner John May said. “He was always a good person.”

May said Dee was a versatile artist who not only played the part but was known for dressing the part.

“With him it would be gold lame [suit], lots of colors,[the] band would also be dressed properly and in coordinated colors, so it was very much a show,” May said. “He was definitely a showman and knew his part was David Dee to bring it to the people, and he always did.”

May said Dee was a mainstay at BB’s, performing at the club every month for more than 15 years. But music wasn’t an outlet just for Dee, it was a family affair. Dee’s daughters, Lesley Withers and Gina Eckford, backed him with vocals as the Divine Divas.

Beyond his musical talent, Dee will be remembered as a kind person with immense character, Hayes said.

“David was always a wonderful, wonderful person to be around,” Hayes said. “Everyone loved David, we’ll miss the music, and we’ll miss the man.”