Saturday, March 07, 2015

R.I.P. Gene Lynn, singer and nightclub owner

Gene Lynn, the St. Louis singer and former nightclub owner sometimes described as "the black Frank Sinatra," has died. He was 78. Friends and colleagues reported today on Facebook that he passed away early Saturday morning after recently suffering a stroke and a recurrence of stomach cancer.

Born Leon Campbell in Mobile, AL, the sixth of ten children, Lynn (pictured) graduated from Mobile County Training School and then moved with his family to St. Louis. He adopted his stage name and broke into the music business here in the early 1960s, singing at venues including the Iron Gate, Parkway House Hotel, the Playboy Club, and various other spots in the Gaslight Square entertainment district.

Lynn began as a blues singer but soon expanded his repertoire to include a variety of material, gaining particular notice for his smooth renditions of songs associated with Nat "King" Cole, Tony Bennett, and, most of all, Sinatra.

He seemed to have had some mixed feelings about the comparison, though, as in 2009 he told St. Louis magazine, "He (Sinatra) had moments of being a real asshole. But what I really admired about Frank was, he sang about life. He was a very emotional kind of guy. I'm emotional, too; I've got my heart and soul in it. And I won't sing anything that doesn't have that kind of meaning."

In 1971, he opened his own nightclub, Gene Lynn's, at 322 N. Whittier in the Central West End, serving as headlining entertainer as well as owner. The business attracted a variety of customers, black and white, from all walks of life, including former denizens of Gaslight Square - by then crumbling into ruins - as well as musicians, politicians, media figures, and pro athletes.

Later in the 1970s, Lynn recorded a private-press album, For The 1st Time, at Technisonic Studios in St. Louis, backed by pianist Jeter Thompson, bassist Harold Thompson, and drummer Andre Maclin.

Lynn continued to operate his club on Whittier and then (with a year-long interruption in the early 90s) at two subsequent locations for more than 30 years, finally selling it in 2004. (After passing through a couple of sets of owners, the last incarnation of Gene Lynn's at 348 Sarah in the Lindell Marketplace, closed for good in 2008.)

Since the sale, Lynn had continued to work steadily as his health permitted, doing private engagements and performing at local restaurants including Bartolino's, Nathalie's, Brennan's, and Balaban's.

He also was an avid golfer, and since 2008 had held an annual golf tournament to raise money for a foundation and scholarships in honor of his son, Gene Leon Lynn Campbell II, who died in a boating accident in 2007 at the age of 24.

Gene Lynn was married and divorced three times. Survivors include his partner, Maria Vera, two daughters, Gina Lynne Jones and Angerrilynn Madison; his sister, Deloris Johnson; four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Visitation will take place from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Friday, March 13 at Third Presbyterian Church, 9990 Lewis and Clark Blvd. A celebration of Lynn’s life will be held at 10:00 a.m., Saturday, March 14 at the church, followed by burial at St. Peter’s Cemetery, 2101 Lucas and Hunt Road. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Flourish Children’s Foundation c/o Third Presbyterian Church, or the Save-A-Life-For-Geno Foundation, c/o Bank of America, 4625 Lindell Blvd, 63108.

In the video below, you can see Gene Lynn singing "New York, New York" in 2009 at Mihailis Chophouse in St. Louis:

(Updated 3/8/15 with information on survivors and funeral services.)

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