Lenny Dee, who was "Mr. Entertainment" on the Pinellas beaches for more than three decades, died Sunday (Feb. 12, 2006) at home under hospice care. He was 83.
In his great days on the local scene, beginning in the 1950s, the veteran organist and singer known for his campy humor and off-color jokes grew into a legend.
He had been off the stage for years. He complained to a newspaper reporter in 1997: "I'm 74 and out of work for three years. How can a man like me not have a home to go to every night?" By home, he meant a regular gig, a place to work in the evenings and meet his fans.
"My fans don't come out to nightclubs anymore," he said. "They're afraid to drive at night. And they don't drink like they used to, so they can't support the kind of clubs I love."
His musical reputation stretched far beyond the Suncoast. A one-time performer with Jimmy Dorsey, Mr. Dee in his heyday in the '50s, '60s and '70s appeared on such national TV programs as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show with Jack Paar and the Lawrence Welk Show.
A Nashville recording artist, Mr. Dee sold more than a million copies in the 1950s of the hit song he wrote, Plantation Boogie, and covered hundreds of pop and country standards for MCA Records.
The liner notes of a later compilation album included this tribute:
"The venerable boogie style was reborn in Dee's Hammond (organ), and Plantation Boogie became one of the more influential records of the decade. When words were added, the song was soon covered by everyone from Red Foley to the Gaylords, and it helped launch Dee on a career that encompassed some 56 LPs and continued into the '90s.
"The electric organ, especially in its later incarnation as the Hammond B3, became a staple of rock and soul groups in the 60s."
He made his first album of organ music in 1951, four years before hitting gold with Plantation Boogie. About that time, he began working during the Suncoast winter season, spending the rest of the year on the nightclub circuit or concert tours, making personal appearances and fitting in recording sessions in Nashville.
On the south Pinellas beaches, he played at most of the big hotels. He owned pieces of some of the clubs too. A pal to the locals, he made fans of many tourists who came back to see him again and again.
"I don't know what it is, but people I just meet think they know me," he said in 1991. "Or maybe they saw me 20 years ago and have never forgotten what I did for them. That's beautiful, man. They come to see you and they feel like part of the family. I just love these people and I'm sincere."
The story of his life began in Chicago but quickly shifted to Florida. Reared "near Tampa," he got his first job at the old Olive Hotel there.
"This is the only place I've really stayed in long," Mr. Dee said. "It's home. You get your audience and they know you and what you are, who you are and that you are around. But the whole business has changed around here."
But for his family, knowing Lenny Dee meant more than the recognition he received. Instead he was all about his fans.
"I think he would have just said thank you to them," said his daughter, Georgia Dee. "He really loved his fans and the people. They meant a lot to him."
Survivors include his wife, Hendrica; their two children, Georgia and Raymond, both of St. Petersburg; his two children from a previous marriage, Barbara and Leonard, both of Sarasota; and six grandchildren.
Another daughter, Linda, died two years ago.
Information from Times files was used in this obituary.