ST. LOUIS — Russ David, a St. Louis bandleader and pianist who played everything from bawdy riverboats in the late 1920s to Lyndon B. Johnson’s inaugural ball, died Jan. 21 from a stroke. He was 89.
David, who lived in St. Louis all his life, was an arranger, composer, musician, bandleader and radio host whose career spanned seven decades. He performed for St. Louis’ high-society and for Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Ford and George H.W. Bush.
He was born in November 1913 and grew up poor in a home that had no bathroom or running water. At 15 he began playing piano for a black bandleader on a Mississippi riverboat, an experience that spawned a love for black jazz artists.
Decades later, David would produce the country’s first integrated dance show, “St. Louis Hop,” a local version of “American Bandstand.”
His radio career began at KMOX. In 1936, he became musical director for KSD radio. In 1953, KSD launched David’s most popular program: “Pevely Playhouse Party,” a two-hour live radio show that earned him legions of fans among St. Louis women. In 1969, the show moved to WEW radio, where it ran ten more years.
He also wrote commercial jingles for such clients as Pontiac, American Airlines and Budweiser, earning 12 gold records for his work. Perhaps his best-known tune is “Where There’s Life, There’s Bud,” which was so popular that it later became the basis for an LP.
His last gig was Oct. 26, a performance at St. Louis’ University Club. Relatives said he had a stroke the next day, was hospitalized, and later placed in a nursing home. He died less than a month after being named to the St. Louis Radio Hall of Fame.
He is survived by daughter Jennifer David Oidtman, a singer; daughter Deborah Lewis; daughter Susie Dorn; son Dan David, 10 grandchildren and six great- grandchildren.