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Dominoes band leader Ron Lowe dies at 59

His racially mixed band played 12-bar blues and broke an unofficial color barrier on the beaches.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 2, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ronald David "Ron" Lowe, whose band the Dominoes helped break down the color barrier in segregated St. Petersburg, has died at 59.

He died Thursday (Dec. 27, 2001) at Northside Hospital and Heart Institute of pancreatitis, his companion said.

Ronnie Lowe and the Dominoes got their start in the early '60s playing what Mr. Lowe called "gut-bucket" 12-bar blues in landmark spots in the black community, such as the Roseland Ballroom and the Robert James Hotel.

In 1962, the band broke the unofficial entertainment color barrier on the beaches, becoming the first racially mixed band to perform for an integrated audience when the Dominoes were hired as the house band at the Peppermint Lounge on Madeira Beach.

The band got its name from local deejay "Tiger Tom" Hankerson of black radio station WTMP-AM.

"He said our music was like dominoes: white in spots, but mostly black," Mr. Lowe said in 1993.

The group was formed when Mr. Lowe met Sterling "Five Fingers" Magee, who played at the Manhattan Casino on 22nd Street S, where Mr. Lowe spent much of his spare time. They rounded up a few friends, including Mr. Lowe's brother on drums.

Through his band, Mr. Lowe befriended Beat generation writer Jack Kerouac, who occasionally sat in with the group on ukulele and harmonica. Their friendship lasted until Kerouac's death in 1969.

Over the course of four decades some notable musicians passed through the band, including Jim Stafford and Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band, who joined in the summer of 1969.

Mr. Lowe also played a part in local politics and was outspoken on civil rights and race relations.

"In the African-American community, Ron was a known commodity and could walk in any arena and gain acceptance," said Watson L. Haynes, whose City Council campaigns Mr. Lowe managed in 1978 and 1988.

In 1982, Mr. Lowe made an unsuccessful bid as a Democrat for the District 57 seat in the Florida House of Representatives.

Survivors include his companion of 39 years, Sandy Simmons, St. Petersburg; two brothers, Nick, St. Petersburg, and Charles E., Jacksonville; three nephews, David Lowe and Jeremy Lowe, both of St. Petersburg, and Charles Lowe, Jacksonville; and a niece, Kimberly Lowe, Jacksonville.

Visitation is at 3 p.m. today with a service at 4 p.m. at ALifeTribute FuneralCare, 7820 38th Ave. N, St. Petersburg.

Donations can be made to the Pinellas County Education Foundation's Doorways scholarship program.

- Information from Times files was used in this obituary.

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