A memorial service and jam session honoring bassist Raymond Eldridge Jr. will take place from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. this coming Monday, April 15 at Eddie Randle and Sons, 4600 Natural Bridge Rd.
Eldridge died Tuesday, April 9 at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He was 69. He had suffered a stroke on March 22, and had been in the ICU at Barnes-Jewish since then. His wife Alverne Eldridge told StLJN that prior to the stroke, he had survived a number of serious medical conditions, including lung cancer in 1996, acute kidney failure, and, in 2011, liver cancer that required a resection.
Born in St. Louis, Eldridge (pictured) came from a musical family. His mother sang, and his father Raymond Eldridge Sr. was a professional bassist who began teaching Raymond Jr. while he was still in grade school. The instruction paid off when the younger Eldridge was able to join the musicians union at age 13 and begin working professionally. One of his most memorable early experiences, his wife said, was getting the opportunity to jam with Miles Davis, who knew Eldridge Sr.
Eldridge served from 1965 to 1967 in the US Army band, where his band mates included saxophonist Julius Hemphill and pianist and trumpeter Jack Kent. Although he initially played sousaphone, he later switched to string bass and, as the unit's only available bassist, was able to stay out of combat in Vietnam.
Upon his return to St. Louis, Eldridge began playing with local musicians and groups, backing touring performers coming through town, and occasionally going on the road himself. He met his wife while touring with saxophonist Hank Crawford, and played with many other nationally and internationally known performers, including Marlena Shaw, Billy Eckstine, Joe Williams, Johnny Hartman, Count Basie, Milt Trenier, Aretha Franklin, Dakota Staton, Tiny Tim, Anita Bryant, and more.
Besides Davis, Kent and Hemphill, Eldridge also played with literally hundreds of other musicians from St. Louis over the course of his career. Some were well known outside the area, such as Clark Terry, John Hicks, Jimmy Forrest, Don Cunningham, Oliver Sain, and Eddie Fisher. Other local singers and bandleaders who relied on his services over the years included Hugh "Peanuts" Whalum, Freddie Washington, Gene Lynn, Terry Williams, Charles Fox, John Pyatt, Tony Viviano, Mae Wheeler, Jim Becker, Eddie Fritz, Babs Robnett, David Hines, Elaine Donahoo, the Bosman Twins, Jeanne Trevor, and many more. Eldridge's last performance was with Whalum on March 15 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel.
In addition to Alverne Eldridge, his wife of 47 years, Raymond Eldridge Jr. is survived by a brother, Dahn Brown, and sister, Sylvia Merriweather, both of St. Louis; a son, Raymond Eldridge III of Washington DC; a daughter, April Jones of Swansea, MA; and four grandchildren.
Photo courtesy of Dahn Brown and the Eldridge family.