Jazz pianist Clarence Bell dies in St. Louis

Clarence Bell, right, at 5 Sisters Jazz Café with jazz activist and JSOP member Vivian LaMont. Photo by Norman Vickers.

Clarence Ruben Bell
January 14, 1944 – June 24, 2017

The Jazz Society held a benefit performance for Clarence Bell at 5 Sisters Jazz Café in 2014, while he was recovering from a small stroke. Photo by Norman Vickers.

Mr. Clarence R. Bell of Pensacola, Florida passed away Saturday June 24, 2017 in St. Louis, Mo. (Spanish Lake), leaving his loving wife, Bobbie, devoted sister Patricia (Jerome), beloved brothers’ Bonnie (Sandra) and Kenneth (Maxine), nieces and nephews and very special cherished friends from around the country to forever be inspired by his dedication to “love through music” memory.

A memorial service will be held 1 p.m. July 9, 2017, at the Shrewsbury City Center, 5200 Shrewsbury Ave., St. Louis. In lieu of flowers please send memories (pictures, cards, etc. ) written or audio-visual and any love offerings, to P.O. Box 38445, St. Louis, Missouri, 63138. The family thanks you in advance.

Clarence’s wife Bobbie may be contacted by e-mail at : [email protected] or by phone at 314-994-1945.

As many Jazz Society members and friends know, Clarence was born blind and attended the St. Augustine School for the Blind, the same one attended by pianist/vocalist Ray Charles. There was a time when Clarence lived in California. During this period he made a duo recording with another blind vocalist-pianist, Stevie Wonder. According to informants, his last CD was made with Charles Wright in 2016.

A year or so ago, Clarence sustained a mild stroke, primarily affecting his left hand. He recovered from that event and resumed performing. The Jazz Society held a benefit for him during this period. And, after he had recovered, he also performed for the Jazz Society at Five Sisters Jazz Café in the Belmont-DeVilliers area.

Clarence moved to the St. Louis area in March and married longtime friend Bobbie. Bobbie reported that Clarence’s death was sudden, presumably a recurrent stroke, this time fatal.

Clarence Bell performed for the Music Study
Club (Pensacola’s oldest continuous music organization, established 1919). Event was held at Pleitz Chapel, First Baptist Church. Photo by Norman Vickers.

4 Replies to “Jazz pianist Clarence Bell dies in St. Louis”

  1. Thanks, John. Yes, when Clarence Bell came back to Pensacola, Harvey became a friend, sometimes chauffeur, and promoter of Clarence’s piano jazz performances. I, too, have fond memories of my long association with Harvey. He was an original board member when Jazz Society of Pensacola started in 1983. Had great stories about his performing with Air Force Strings and also his summer tour as replacement bassist for Al Hirt.

    We miss both Harvey and Clarence, but they left a great musical legacy for us.


  2. Dear Family,
    I had the pleasure of knowing Clarence Bell while we were attending San Diego State College. What a lovely man he was!
    He left San Diego, I believe, to work with Stevie Wonder. Who knew then what that would become!!
    So sorry to hear of his passing.

  3. I met Clarence Bell in a class that he taught at San Diego City College. He taught a class on songwriting and voice culture. I encouraged my friend, John Thomas, to join me in the class. It was the best, memorial, class I had ever taken.
    I am forever grateful of the time he spent with me and my friends and I. I was just now at home in Naples, Italy watching a show on TV. A contestant sang a west side story song, “There’s a place for us”. Clarence seemed to love that song and it seemed to have a place in his heart. I thought of him and looked him up on the internet. I am sorry to say that I never had a chance to thank him for the class.
    Thank you, Clarence.
    Reggie Haines

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