Singer's style enhanced banjo club performances
Given a second-chance by a kidney transplant, Dorothy “DJ” Devine became the chanteuse of the Pittsburgh Banjo Club, belting out songs weekly at Elks Lodge No. 339 in the North Side and at performances throughout the area.
“She just went out there and made the most of it,” said her son Jim Devine of Erie.
Her signature song was the Sophie Tucker standard “Some of These Days,” said another son, Bill Devine of West Mifflin.
“That was her persona: ‘You'll miss your big, fat mama.' That was her,” he said.
Dorothy Jean Devine of Baldwin died Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. She was 73.
She and her husband of 51 years, Richard Devine, discovered the banjo club when it held its rehearsals in the James Street Tavern in the North Side.
Sitting in the audience, Mrs. Devine would sing along while the club played songs from the 1920s and '30s. The band started asking her up to the stage.
“Slowly but surely, they adopted her as part of the band,” Jim Devine said. She became a member in 2006.
Frank Rossi, founder of the Pittsburgh Banjo Club, said the club had several people who wanted to get up and sing along with it during its 25 years. Usually the result was “disastrous” as the person's voice tried to compete with the banjo, but that was never the case with Mrs. Devine, whom he often introduced as the vamp of the North Side.
“She was able to belt out those songs like they did in the 1920s,” he said.
When her failing health caused her to miss a performance, it would disappoint the crowd, he said.
“We'll miss her tremendously,” Rossi said. “She really personified what the banjo club music was.”
Joe Brown, president of Elks Lodge No. 339, said it wasn't just her voice but her entire act that the crowd loved. Wearing a feather boa, she would walk on the stage like a vaudeville performer and grab everyone's attention.
“People flock in here to see her,” he said. “She had a way of taking your evening — if it was going bad, it wasn't going bad when she was done.”
Mrs. Devine was a nurse at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic until her first son was born. Bill Devine said her nurturing attitude made their house the place where every kid in the neighborhood hung out when they were growing up.
“She was everybody's favorite person. She loved everybody, no matter what,” he said.
Other than her family and music, her main passion in life was sports. She kept a red, foam brick beside her chair that she would throw at the TV when a ref made a bad call, and friends knew not to call during a Steelers game, Jim Devine said.
In addition to her husband and sons Jim and Bill, Mrs. Devine is survived by sons Rick of Arlington, David of Leverkusen, Germany, and Neal of Abilene, Texas; a sister, Carol Gregorius of San Jose, Calif.; and 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday in Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home Inc., 301 Curry Hollow Road, where a blessing service will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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