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Sax player Sylvester Austin got his start in St. Petersburg

By CRAIG BASSE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 12, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Sylvester "Sil" Austin, a veteran jazz recording artist who got his start with the tenor saxophone in St. Petersburg, has died at 71.

Mr. Austin, who recorded more than 30 albums for Mercury Records, died Saturday (Sept. 1, 2001) at Portsbridge Hospital, Riverdale, Ga., of prostate cancer. He lived in College Park, Ga.

His Top 40 hits included Slow Walk, My Mother's Eyes, and his signature song, Danny Boy.

A native of Dunnellon, he moved to St. Petersburg at age 5.

"I was 12 years old before my mother was able to buy an instrument," Mr. Austin once wrote. "I wanted a horn so bad, but I almost ended up with a trombone because it was cheaper than a sax.

"We were able to talk the dealer into selling us the saxophone at a lesser price. Needless to say, for me it was love at first sight."

Mr. Austin performed all over Europe and Asia, usually traveling with his wife, the Rev. Vernice Austin, assistant minister at Union City, Ga., Methodist Church.

Other survivors included two daughters, Linda Stills, Hartford, Conn., and Sybil Green, Hempstead, N.Y.; a sister, Olivia Simpkins, St. Petersburg; two brothers, Rufus Johnson, Jacksonville N.C., and J.D. Johnson, Topeka, Kan.; nine grandchildren; and seven great grandchildren.

A service was held Saturday in Atlanta.

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this obituary.

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