Memphis, Tenn. (6.17.13) Mrs. Rowena H. Whiting, who bought Memphis musician Kenny DeWalt his first trombone and foresaw his success nationally when he was a beginning musician, has died. She was 82.
She died Sunday of respiratory failure at Baptist Memorial Hospital, according to Regina Burns, one of her daughters.
DeWalt, who has played for numerous stars including “Johnny Taylor, The Temptations, The Bar-Kays (plus) Al Green and recorded with Mary J. Blige,” said when his aunt told him he would be on “The Tonight Show” he laughed. But years later in 2003, he called her from California after he played for Al Green on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Services Tuesday (6.18.13) will be held at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, 70 N. Bellevue Blvd. Visitation is scheduled for 4 p.m. with the funeral starting at 5 p.m. Burial is scheduled at 10 a.m. Wednesday (6.19.13) at New Park Cemetery, 4536 Horn Lake Road.
Mrs. Whiting was the former wife of the late Prince Whiting Jr. In addition to Burns, her children are Darryl A. Whiting Sr. of Jacksonville, Fla. and Marla Whiting of Memphis. Derrick A. Whiting Sr. predeceased her in 2004 at age 41.
Mrs. Whiting formerly worked at the then-Armour Packing Co. Her late parents, Alon Etta Vaughn-Hooks and John Hooks, were sharecroppers in Clarkedale, Ark., where she was born. Her siblings included Daisy Tanner, Rosemary DeWalt and a brother, who each predeceased her.
She leaves eight grandchildren: Derrick A. Whiting Jr., Tolissia Whiting, Joshua D. Whiting, Zephaniah D. Whiting, London Pierce, LaDarius Pierce, Darryl Whiting Jr. and Darius Whiting. Granddaughter Daphne Whiting predeceased her.
Once upon a time, I was a beginning saxophone student and my cousin, Kenneth "Kenny Ray" DeWalt, (right) was learning to play the trombone under the direction of Emerson Able Jr., at the famed Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee.
Cuz taught me to use a broom to help learn the keys on the sax. Then he worked with me on breathing correctly. All of that coupled with Band Director Kurl McKinney's instruction came in handy when the Lincoln Junior High School Band went to the Strawberry Festival in Humboldt, Tenn., back in the day. (See my band photo in the slideshow below).
Kenny Ray went on to become a professional horn player, performing with Rev. Al Green and The Bar-Kays, thanks in part to my mom, Mrs. Rowena Whiting, who bought him his first horn. She also prophesied that he would perform on "The Tonight Show." He didn't believe her and laughed. Years later he called my mom from "The Tonight Show" just before he performed!!
Meanwhile, in high school and college, I put the saxophone down and picked up a microphone, video camera, and other journalist’s tools. This is my Black History Month salute to my 54-year-old cousin, Kenny DeWalt, who shared insights with me about his amazing professional career during an interview Jan. 5, 2013, in Memphis.
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About the Author:
Regina L. Burns, M.A., Project+, is an award-winning multimedia editor and journalist, specializing in Black history and African American stories at Harvest Reapers Communications. Her work has been published in Texas Highways magazine, WFAA-TV, The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as well as The Commercial Appeal, the Tri-State Defender and The Flyer, among others.