Adapted from an article by Valerie Gladstone
When Dennis Llewellyn Day was growing up in East Chicago, Indiana, he fully expected to work in a steel mill after high school. Music may have been his birthright but, being practical, he thought it had to remain a sideline. “I always sang,” says the tall, handsome tenor. “My family has been blessed with the gift of music.” His mother, Irene Day, was a well-known church soloist and concert singer and his sister is classically trained.
Over the years, Day made sure music wouldn’t remain a sideline. Teaching and counseling may have occupied his days but singing filled his nights. Jazz aficionados in Chicago, Washington DC, and New York have become as familiar with his sweet voice as the East Chicago churchgoers of his boyhood.
Never one to do things half-heartedly, Day spent most of his free time in his teens singing with various neighborhood groups, many of which were the first to be integrated. His stages were local street corners and churches. At 15 he formed The Valiants. This was the early ‘60’s, a hot time for music in East Chicago. Day’s group shared managers and rehearsal space with the legendary Dells and were often featured on shows with nearby rivals. The Jackson Five and the Valiants became the first vocal groups to sign on with the Gary, Indiana-based label Steeltown Records, hoping to challenge Motown’s domination of the airwaves.
According to Steeltown President and co-founder Gordon Keith, The Valiants recorded a single on the fledgling label credited to Day as writer and distributed on Chicago’s Destination and Steeltown records, produced by Steeltown’s co-founder, Mighty Mo Rodgers,” entitled “I Shed a Tear” and “So in Love”it garnered regional acclaim in the mid-west. “The Jackson Five moved on to Motown Records and, as they say, the rest is history,” says Keith, who is now a counselor and minister in Gary. “Dennis decided to leave the area also to pursue his education. It was another big loss to us at Steeltown Records.”
Recalling those early years, being mentored by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Dells, Day says, our two groups rehearsed Saturdays in our manger’s office at his Lumber Yard on 19th and Virginia street in Gary.“I learned a great deal from The Dells about harmony, vocal affect, and control. Marvin Jr., their lead, would tease me about “singing too pretty,” saying I needed ‘a little gravel in my growl.’ “That was never my style. He was only pointing out the range of emotions that all good singers use in delivering a song. I never forgot that.”
Day also counts among his early influences James Pookie Hudson and The Spaniels, local favorites who made the big time with one of the all-time classic hits, “Good Night, Sweetheart, It’s Time to Go.” Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Jon Hendricks, Johnny Mathis and Gospel greats the Roberta Martin Singers and Mel Torme helped to influence Day’s vocal style.
Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and student activism for social justice, Dennis enrolled in Fisk University in Nashville, home of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who introduced the world to American Black music in the form of Negro Spirituals. Day has always kept one foot in church music and the other in pop and jazz and while at Fisk, he continued the tradition, singing with the University Choir.
On a choir tour he performed a tenor duet under the baton of Eugene Ormandy, conductor of the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra. “Imagine me,” says Day, “a doo-wop street corner singer, fresh out of my steel worker’s sooty steel-toed metatarsal shoes and doing those one-nighters, school sock hops and ball rooms in Gary and Chicago, taking my cue from the Philadelphia Symphony’s celebrated maestro. It was incredible.”
In Nashville, Day formed a new group, Dino and the Dynamics (later named The Jades), for whom he was lead singer. They played to capacity audiences in clubs catering to his unique brand of “Chicago Smooth” and “Southern Soul” rock and roll. Day also became a regular demo artist for Columbia Screen Gems on famed Music Row. Music flowed then in Nashville with Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, and Jimi Hendrix as club regulars along the Jefferson street corridor.
At the end of his freshman year, Dennis won a talent show for which the prize was an extended engagement at Nashville’s Club Baron – a jewel of a music venue on the Chitlin’ Circuit located on the Jefferson street corridor the mid-south’s black entertainment strip. The Barron and El Tropicana’s weekend house band was hosted by such greats as Jimmy Hendricks and his longtime bassist Billy Cox pre-Gypsy Band, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, James Brown, Little Richard, Booker T, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Gladys Knight and the Pips, B.B. King, Billy Paul, and Miles Davis. For his performances, Dennis enlisted a back-up group of three local performers to form Dino and the Dynamics. They played weekends at the Baron to packed houses for several months until Fisk’s President James Lawson persuaded Dennis to abandon his flirtation with the Music City’s allures and focus on his studies.
Although not singing regularly in Nashville clubs, Dennis continued to perform with the group, which had changed its name to The Jades and appeared at a variety of venues throughout the mid-South and in appearances at a number of the region’s colleges, and dances including Fisk and Tennessee A&I State University. The Jades were discovered by Nashville’s legendary record producer Ted Jarrett https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Jarrett who produced their only nationally charted record, a ballad, “My Loss Your Gain,” on the Poncello Label, with Dennis as lead. The song debuted on the Cash Box Top R&B chart nationwide, was distributed by Decca Records, and is now available on an award-winning CD,in the Northern Soul genre as Music City Soul: From Nashville’s Black Cats – a best seller in the UK and Europe.
Dennis and his Fisk roommate, the late guitarist Frank “Silk” Smith,teamed-up and recorded demo sessions on Nashville’s Music Row for Columbia Screen Gems, Mercury and Capitol Records for Conway Twitty, Charlie Pride, Ricky Nelson, Joe Tex, and Ray Stevens, who wanted to hire Dennis and change his name to Travis Womack. Being under legal age, Dennis consulted his parents who staunchly refused to sign off on a name change and encouraged Dennis to complete his college education.
After graduating from Fisk with a degree in sociology, and completing a Masters degree at the University of Chicago he began a career that traversed the fields of criminal justice administration, education and human services,while continuing his pursuit of music as a life’s ambition and calling. Always pragmatic, heeding his father’s advice , “have something you can fall back on”. He taught Special Education in the New York City public middle schools for seven years teaching and counseling “at risk students” in Washington Heights and the bronx where he obtained New York State principal certification. I realized at some stage, I indeed may need a fall back”so I worked and prepared for “what if possibilities” as I continued to gig when and wherever I could?” Through out his music dual careers Day continued to perform in Chicago, Washington DC, and New York City, where he is currently resides with his wife. The father of two daughters from his first marriage, he established a music publishing company, Alylela Music ( Harry Fox Agency Affiliate), and record labels, D-Day Records and D-Day Media Records.
In reflecting on his move to Washington DC in 1980s a period that marked his full return to music. He muses over the deep reconnection he made with music after a few years a few years hiatus,returning for a period, full-time as an artist in venues of sold out enthusiastic performances with the D.C. based Blackbyrds, an award winning jazz/fusion group formed by Howard University’s resident jazz professor,and legendary jazz trumpeter, Dr. Donald Byrd. The group had six gold albums and a Grammy nomination for “Walkin’ in Rhythm” to its credit. It was during this period that Day had the distinction of singing an inspiring solo at the wake service held for the great heavy weight champion, Joe Louis at Washington’s Nineteenth Street Baptist Church. After a string of featured appearances with The Blackbyrds, Day formed his own group and began playing Metro- DC’s club and festival circuit.
Since his New York debut in 1984 at the Presbyterian Jazz Society’s Second Sunday Jazz series, the singer has continued to pursue dual careers. Appointed by the Governor as New York State’s Chief Fair Housing Officer by day he helped establish fair housing,minority/ womens contracting and civil rights policy statewide. At night he performs with some of the best and has played or recorded with such luminaries Frank Foster, former leader of the Count Basie Orchestra, Clark Terry, Benny Powell, Dorothy Donegan, Ernie Hayes,Valery Ponomarev, Marion Cowings,Noel Pointer,Doc Cheatham, Dennis Irwin,Major Holly, Scott Hamilton,Buck Hill,Shirley Horne,Richard Wyands,John Miller,Jessie Davis,Leon Parker Jr.Billy Kaye,Paul Ramsey, Jackie Williams, Lionel Hampton, Melvin Sparks, Dr. Lonnie Smith,Eddie Chamblee, Art Porter Jr. Nick Collione,Walter Perkins Jr., Bross Townsend,Terry Morrisette, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Mercer Ellington to name a few and he has proudly shared the stage with Tony Bennett.
In New York Dennis spent a year as a member of the Lance Haywood Jazz Singers. He studied at the Manhattan School of Music, and in private lessons with Dr. Michael Warren, Melba Joyce, Andrew Frierson, Jackie Paris, Dr. Richard Harper, Bob Stoloff, Anne Marie Ross, Nancy Mareno, and Miles Griffith.always evolving with his music and artistic pursuits he has since earned a second Master of Arts degree in Media Arts and documentary filmmaking from Long Island University. Since retirement Day has pursued his musical aspirations and artistic projects full time.Forming his own company D-Day Media Group and making music, still with the very best. In 2007 Dennis was one of 12 finalists in New York’s annual Jazz Mobile Anheuser-Busch Best of the Best Jazz Vocal Competition. Currently, he is composing new songs working on a third album, studying piano, and performing in a variety of venues.
Usually Day fronts his own group consisting of piano, bass, percussion, and guitar and alto or tenor saxophone. His New York engagements have included The Blue Note, The West End Gate, The Village Vanguard (guest artist with pianist Dorothy Donegan, Minton’s Playhouse, the Lennox lounge), Vissiones,The West End Cafe,ST Nicholas Pub St. Peters’ Concert Series, Fat Cats, Sweet Basil’s,The Victoria Theater, Annual Harlem Week, Programs on the Plaza, One Penn Plaza Summer Concerts, Peter Pastor’s, The Karavan, Greenstreet’s, Al Defimio’s,Blues Alley, Woodrow Wilson Plaza Music Festival in Washington D.C., Constitution Hall,U.S.A for Fisk! The NAACP Capitol Region Telethon for UNCF.The Ebony Fashion Fair of Westchester County. PJS 2nd Sunday Jazz series The Portland Jazz Festival and The Vancouver Jazz Festival’s invitational jam session and a number of other venues including Cancun, Mexico and the Jazz Club in Havana, Cuba El Calle 28. One need only catch Day’s live performance to see that over night success sometimes can be a life time of dedication to what you joyously love to do.
In the 1990s, Dennis released his first album on D-Day Records, Dennis Day For Only You, which includes four of his original songs, “Sunday Morning Sunshine,” “Away with Me,” “No One-Night Stand,” and “I’ll Go It Alone.”
Herb Boyd, jazz critic for Downbeat Magazine and the New York Amsterdam News wrote in a 1996 article profiling the singer-songwriter, “Dennis Day is a versatile stylist who has an easy and distinctive style reminiscent of Brooke Benton, Marvin Gaye, or the Platters’ great lead singer, Tony Williams, depending on the mood or the music. Judging by his latest recording project, he has an obvious knack for composition, too.
Day’s original single Sunday Morning Sunshine features Art Porter, Jr. and TK Blue, in both instrumental and vocal versions.
Day’s second album, All Things in Time, peaked at #39 nationwide in College Music Journal’s annual Jazz charts. The album features his original song African Musing, and includes songs from the Great American Song Book with performances by Wycliff Gordon, Stephon Harris, Danny Mixon, and John Dimartino and John Miller. Dennis Day All Things in Time was presented the Grindie Award for Best in Jazz genre 2009 by RadioIndy the Internet Radio music aggregator.
In 2017, Day released a single – his rendition of Billy Vera’s Wastin’ My Time.
Coming in 2018, a new single, Waters of March, and a new album, Dennis Llewellyn Day, Bossa, Blues, and Ballads.
Day remains optimistic about his music. “I still enjoy what I do and as long as others do as well, I’ll continue the musical journey begun a lifetime ago.”
Dennis Llewellyn Day &Camille Thurman “Waters of March (single) from new CD Dennis Llewellyn Day Bossa, Blues &Ballads , Spring 2018 TBA
Link Below: “Waters of March Spring 2018 D-Day Media Records