[ IN APPRECIATION ]
He lived to conduct the band
Recalling band leader Del Courtney, who died Saturday
at the age of 95, three things come to mind: excellent big-band dance music, longevity and wives -- he had five of them.
Jimmy Borges started singing with Del's band in 1986 when the Royal Hawaiian held tea dances. He sang with the band into the early 2000s.
"Del was one of my heroes," Jimmy said. "He did everything wrong, and he still lived until he was 95. He had bad eating habits, he carried on with prostate cancer for at least 15 years and he had a harem full of wives."
Jimmy said that no matter how small the audience, Del always paid the band. If the take at the door wasn't enough, he would pay the guys out of his own pocket.
When Del was in his 90s, the band played at the Blue Tropix and the Elks Club. Jimmy said they would roll him up to the bandstand in a wheelchair, help him stand, and he would lead the band while holding on to the back of a chair.
Jimmy and musicians Gabe Baltazar and Pat Hennessy helped keep the band together in the late years. Gabe or Jimmy would start and stop the band, and Del would conduct in between. Leading the band was Del's life. It kept him going.
In earlier years, Jimmy, who was born in Hawaii but grew up in Oakland, Calif., appeared on Del's radio show in the Bay area. When Del was the Oakland Raiders' band leader, Del had Jimmy sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the Oakland-Kansas City game in 1980.
The late accountant Rex Clay and his wife, Alice, handled Del's personal affairs for many years. Alice said she visited him Saturday morning before he died.
Alice said they had great times together. She said the three of them went on a cruise and found, much to Del's surprise, that one of his ex-wives also was on the cruise. Alice said Del wanted to jump ship.
My Turn is a periodic column written by Star-Bulletin staff members expressing their personal views.