Friends, family pay musical tribute to Steele

Pastor Derek Steele (foreground) and Rev. R. B. Holmes compare notes before Darryl Steele’s burial Monday afternoon.

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

A lot of words were spoken Monday afternoon, but it was the music that touched hearts at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church were hundreds came to say farewell to Tallahassee’s musical icon Darryl Steele.

The funeral took place in the same church where his father, Rev. C.K. Steele, was pastor for nearly three decades. The church also was the place where Darryl Steele honed his skills as a musician, focusing on the guitar as a child.

The musical tribute by many of Steele’s friends wasn’t surprising, considering that he played several local venues with local bands during his 40-year career. Steele died on Dec. 22 from complications caused by pneumonia. He was 63.

Pastor Derek Steele eulogized his older brother, maintaining a steady voice despite the suddenness of Darryl’s passing. Before getting into his sermon that he titled around a message on his brother’s voicemail, he talked about what he called “sweet memories” of growing up with Darryl as an influence.

Vicki Herlovich (left) of Eastside Unity Church leads a special musical performance Monday afternoon at Darryl Steele’s funeral.
Photos by St. Clair Murraine

His stories brought laughter from the packed church of hundreds, then the mood turned solemn as he got into his topic “from the upper music room with love.”

The sermon was inspired by Darryl’s answering service message that said: “Greetings from the upper music room. This is Darryl.”

The service attracted a cross-section of Tallahassee, many fans of Steele’s music.

“This funeral was a strong testimony to the legacy of the late C.K. Steele who fought 50 years ago for racial, religious and gender equality,” said Rev. R.B. Holmes, pastor at Bethel who facilitated the service. “What Darryl Steele did was bring White people and Black people together, singing songs of joy.

“It was a very moving experience in a time when there is so much racial turmoil. Through this funeral today we saw the spirit of unity and solidarity from faith.”

Longineu Parsons performed a rousing rendition of “When the Saints go marching in” during Darryl Steele’s funeral Monday afternoon.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

At one point, a video was played, featuring Betty Wright who sent condolences to the family. She referred to Steele as “my friend.”

Steele performed with the legendary R&B singer at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Musicians from Eastside Unity Church, where Steele headed up the music ministries, performed. Several of his musician friends also paid tribute to Steele. They were rousing, as were those who spoke about Steele.

A tribute by trumpeter Longineu Parsons and Robert Wilson brought the church to its feet as they performed “When the Saints go marching in” with a twist of New Orleans.

When they were done, Holmes jokingly referred to them as Louis Armstrong and B.B. King.

Later on Fred Lee performed a spirited version of Lionel Richie’s “Jesus is Love,” moving the church to sing along.

Several people were drawn to tears when some of Steele’s friends recalled their experiences with him.

 “I want to let  you know that I miss Darryl,” said Wilson, who wrote music with Steele. “But I’m glad for him. He told me he wanted to leave a legacy for his children. I want to say; Darryl you made it.”

His family members, including his nephew James Davis Jr. and his son D.K., also recalled how passionate Steele was about his music. 

“Today is a very, very sad day for me,” Davis said. “That’s another one of my uncles that I have to say goodbye to, but I want my cousins to be strong and hold on.”

Rev. Jean De Barbieris Owen, pastor at Eastside Unity Church, delivered an expression that had the tone of a sermon.

“I often said after he had played at church that Darryl was, in my mind, the epitome of what was also written in the Gospel of John, supposedly spoken by John The Baptist,” she said.  “Darryl did not play music. He became the music. There is no one that will ever replace that in our hearts and minds.

“I had never seen such a pure example of God in expression, as I saw in Darryl Steele. We as a community are blessed beyond measure to have known him and we’ll never forget him.”