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June 27, 2020
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When it came to being a music fan and supporter, Don Patterson’s enthusiasm was off the charts.
The Cleveland native, who moved to Pittsburgh in 1983 to attend the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, became a bustling player in the city’s jazz, R&B, funk and soul scene as a promoter, educator and dreamer.
Mr. Patterson, who died Saturday at 61 after suffering from heart disease, was one of the founders of The Soul Show on WYEP and over the years worked at both the Kingsley Association in East Liberty and the Afro-American Music Institute in Homewood, where he helped coordinate fundraising events and do public relations.
In a Facebook tribute, Elwin Green, a former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, wrote, “Don Patterson might have been the biggest hustler I've ever known. I mean, he ALWAYS seemed to have AT LEAST three things going on, and more projects around the corner.”
“He said when he was younger, he did an internship for Don King. I think that’s where he got a lot of his hustle from,” said Kevin Amos, a longtime friend and well-known Pittsburgh DJ, now with Carnegie Mellon’s WRCT.
Mr. Patterson’s latest project was trying to raise money for what he called Pittsburgh's Living Music Wax Museum, which he conceived as a tribute to greats like Billy Eckstine, Billy Strayhorn, Phyllis Hyman, George Benson and Wiz Khalifa.
As a kid, his father had taken him to the Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum in Canada and in recent years he made regular trips to the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, so he loved wax figures.
He imagined his museum as a traveling one that he could take to schools and community groups to educate young people about Pittsburgh’s musical heritage. He held a fundraiser for it in Wilkinsburg in February.
Mr. Patterson told The New Pittsburgh Courier that month, “I fell in love with music at the age of 7 after I got Parliament’s ‘Testify.’ ”
That would be later inspiration for The Soul Show, a concept that he and Stephen Chatman pitched to WYEP. They went on-air with the show on June 24, 1995, playing Parliament’s “Up for The Down Stroke.”
“We didn’t do no watered-down kind of soul, it was pure funk,” Mr. Patterson recently told the Post-Gazette. “We didn't do blues and we didn't do jazz. I was into vinyl and Steve knew CDs. One day I came in, and I said, ‘Steve, we should do a radio show.’ I started calling all these different radio stations and then we landed at WYEP.”
Mr. Patterson was only on air for the first year, because he had so many other things going, including a family. Mr. Chatman, who died of COVID-19 in March, stayed on until 2009, when he left for a job in Erie and then Arizona.
Current Soul Show host Michael Canton, who met Mr. Patterson in 2008, described him as “zany, fun, talkative and committed to music and culture.”
Mr. Patterson stayed close to followers of the show and the music scene in general through a social group called The S.O.U.L. Club.
“We would get together and have barbecues and talk about music -- some of the people who used to listen to him on YEP,” Mr. Amos said.
He also was interested in golf and worked with the city to build a miniature golf course on Frankstown Avenue in Homewood in the late ’80s. He encouraged the neighborhood kids to take up golf through a junior golf club. Mr. Amos said he got some of his entrepreneurial spirit from his dad, who had a hot dog and ice cream stand in Homewood. In recent years, Mr. Patterson, who had a son and daughter, had been taking care of his father.
One of Mr. Patterson’s proudest achievements was taking The AAMI’s Boys Choir to Memphis to perform at the Civil Rights Museum and the Cannon Theatre as part of Stax Records’ 50th Anniversary in 2007.
“He was one of us, no question about it,” said James Johnson, co-founder of the AAMI. “Just unlimited energy. It was hard to put him in any one category. He was a promoter, but was also helping people as individuals.”
“He was just a force to be reckoned with,” said Pittsburgh jazz singer Phat Man Dee. “The minute he saw me he would say ‘Hey Mandee!’ and then immediately launch into whatever new thing he was planning. You had to respect his hustle. Just when you thought you had him figured out ... he was working on a wax museum for Pittsburgh artists, he was out running fashion shows and fundraisers, he had a hot dog cart, and he had a celebrity tribute musical revue.”
Man Dee was set to play Mama Cass Elliot.
“I will miss my friend Don for a very long time,” she said, “and he will never be forgotten.”