St. Louis jazz saxophonist Willie Akins dies at 76
They say when Willie Akins played his tenor saxophone he had the most beautiful tone you had ever heard.
Mr. Akins, 76, died in his sleep in his home in East St. Louis on Friday (Oct. 2, 2015). He had suffered from congestive heart disease.
Mr. Akins was a well-known saxophonist and educator at Webster University.
“He gave me 41 good years,” said his wife, Sandra Akins. “I honored him and respected his art. I thought he was a genius. It was an honor being his wife and his caretaker.”
She said many cherished what her husband brought into their lives through music.
“St. Louis loved Willie Akins, and Willie Akins loved St. Louis,” she said.
Mr. Akins was born in Webster Groves in 1939, graduating from Douglass High School.
He moved to New York in 1957 to pursue opportunities in music. When his father died 11 years later, Mr. Akins returned to St. Louis, where he sought to raise the profile of jazz.
The Willie Akins Quartet has performed regularly for years. He is still listed among Webster University’s faculty for Jazz Studies.
“He was incredibly important to the development of virtually every young jazz musician in St. Louis,” said jazz guitarist Corey Christiansen, who once performed with Akins and now teaches at Utah State University. “We all referred to his band as being the School of Willie Akins.”
St. Louis jazz singer Joe Mancuso spoke of St. Louis’ loss.
“Willie Akins had an unmistakable sound, his tone was beautiful and warm, his improvisational skills were second to none,” he said. “Willie’s lyrical lines were truly poetry in motion. As far as I am concerned, he is the most important jazz musician to come out of St. Louis.”
He said Mr. Akins was a mentor to “so many young musicians that have now become professional musicians that travel the world and perform.”
He said those musicians are putting their mark on the art form.
Mancuso said a GoFundMe page had been set up to help Akins’ family with medical bills and funeral expenses.
Mancuso said two Willie Akins benefit concerts are coming up, one on Sunday, from 2 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. at BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups, 700 South Broadway; and one on Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Boulevard.
Visitation is Wednesday from 2 to 6 p.m. at Eddie Randle and Sons Funeral Home, 4600 Natural Bridge Avenue, St. Louis. Funeral services are at noon Thursday at the funeral home.
Mr. Akins and his wife had seven children between them, one born from their marriage. The children are: Hassan A. Corbin of Las Vegas; Voncia Taylor of Aurora, Colo.; Yusuf I. Reynolds of Carbondale, Ill.; Vanessa Cunningham of Amityville, N.Y.; Kenya Brown of Boston; Alima K. Dunn of Houston; and Omar R. Akins of East St. Louis. He had several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Matthew Franck of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.