Donald Washington Sr., musician

Posted: December 04, 2009

Donald Washington Sr., 79, a well-known Philadelphia-area jazz saxophonist and retired Food Fair worker from Haddon Heights, died of lung cancer Tuesday at home.

Mr. Washington was born in West Philadelphia and raised in Southwest Philadelphia. In 1948, he graduated from Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School, where he excelled in swimming and played varsity basketball.

Food Fair Services employed him as a warehouse worker at 10th Street and Pattison Avenue in South Philadelphia from 1965 to 1990. While there, he won awards on the company's amateur boxing team.

But his real love was music, his daughter Bernadette said. He played the tenor saxophone and was an elder statesman on Philadelphia's jazz scene in the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, his family said.

He performed with Nat "King" Cole, B.B. King, Neil Sedaka, Horace Silver, Donald Byrd, Jerry Butler, Diana Ross, and Sammy Davis Jr.

Mr. Washington had a band, the Marlboro Men, that toured Haiti, Jamaica, and the Virgin Islands. When not traveling, he jammed Saturday nights at Natalie's Lounge in West Philadelphia.

"My dad was such a quiet person, but he was very, very astute at music," his daughter said. "Everybody who knew music knew my dad. He just loved to play."

Among his students were Grover Washington Jr. and George Howard.

Mr. Washington met Eleanor Keith in his neighborhood, and they married in 1951 and had nine children. Three years after his wife died in 1991, he married Marilyn L. Blanchard.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Washington is survived by sons Donald Jr., William, Clinton, Cory, and Michael; daughters Sekai and Sheryl; 14 grandchildren; 28 great-grandchildren; three great-great grandchildren; and a son from a previous relationship, Donasia Brightful.

Son Joseph died before Mr. Washington.

Friends may call after 11 a.m. tomorrow at Grace Temple Baptist Church, 15 E. Charleston Ave., Lawnside, where services will begin at 1 p.m. Mr. Washington's ashes will be scattered at a later date.

Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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