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Tenor Saxophonist Scored Pop HitsCopyright © 2001
Sil Austin had his biggest successes in an overtly commercial rather than jazz vein, but he regarded great jazz saxophonists like Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Sonny Stitt as his major influences.
He was a great showman on stage, and had a big, ripe, blues-inflected tenor sound which was ideally adapted to hard-driving rhythm and blues, but was also highly persuasive on ballads.
He was born Sylvester Austin, and taught himself to play as a 12 year old. He won the Ted Mack Amateur Hour in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1945, playing "Danny Boy". His performance brought him a contract with Mercury Records, and he moved to New York, where he studied for a time at the Juilliard School of Music.
He played with Roy Eldridge briefly, and with Tiny Bradshaw in 1952-54, before setting up his own successful touring group. He recorded over 30 albums for Mercury, and had a number of Top 40 hits with pop tunes like "Danny Boy" (his signature tune), "Slow Walk" and "My Mother's Eyes".
He died of prostrate cancer, and is survived by his wife of 52 years, the Rev. Vernice Austin, two daughters, nine grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.