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1960s singer Johnny Killen dies at 64

March 20, 2003
By CRAIG BASSE, Times Obituaries Editor
St. Petersburg


At 19, Johnny Killen got his start in music by singing on talent night at the old Robert James Hotel.

By 31, "Johnny K" found himself on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, singing Come Out and A Few Precious Moments to kick off a national promotion campaign for a recording.

By then the rock 'n' roller and his band, the Dynamites, had been booked by a talent agency for nationwide tours.

"I actually didn't know how to sing in the beginning, and people laughed at me most of the time," he said in a 1967 interview. "I guess all of us got our kicks. I kept going up there on the stage enjoying it, and they kept laughing. . . . I loved it."

Mr. Killen, who later became an ordained minister and worked for the Pinellas Opportunity Council and as a trolley driver at the Pier, died Monday (March 17, 2003) at Northside Hospital and Heart Institute. He was 64 and had battled multiple sclerosis since 1995, a sister and caregiver, AnnaBell Killen-Boswell, said Wednesday.

During his struggles as a singer, he got help from Reynold Davis, the late Gibbs High School band director who also arranged music for the Manzy Harris Orchestra.

"He got me a job as a valet with Manzy Harris, who had a top band here in the city," Mr. Killen recalled. "I carried equipment for the band, and every now and then he would give me a chance to sing, or mess up."

In 1959, Harris hired him to sing with the band. A year later, he struck out on his own, with performances that included the R&B duo Sam & Dave at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

A native of Macon, Ga., Mr. Killen was a graduate of Gibbs High School and an Army veteran of the Korean War. He was ordained at Travelers Rest Missionary Baptist Church.

Survivors include a daughter, Sylvia Walton, St. Petersburg; two sons, John and Johnny Stephens, Richmond, Va.; two sisters, AnnaBell Killen-Boswell, St. Petersburg, and Rozena Killen-Johnson, Alexandria, Va.; and three brothers, Primus "PK" Killen and Johnny Taylor, both of St. Petersburg, and Darryl Killen, Dallas.

Friends may call from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday at Smith Funeral Home, 1534 18th Ave. S. A wake will be from 6 to 7 p.m. at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, 3455 26th Ave. S, where he was a member. The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at the church with burial at Royal Palm Cemetery South.

-- Information from Times files was used in this obituary.

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