Soul Singing Pays Off for East Oakland Resident
Dee Dee Simon’s plan for making it big in R&B aligns.
Photos by Lance Yamamoto
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An inmate on San Quentin’s death row called out early one morning last May, “Simon’s on the radio!” Other cheers of excitement filled the cell block, leaving guards puzzled about what all the fuss was about, until Simon herself showed up for work as a licensed vocational nurse at the death-row medical clinic.
Danesha Simon, known as Dee Dee on her other job as a soul singer, had gotten up early at her home in East Oakland to take an expected phone call from the producers of “The Steve Harvey Morning Show,” a nationally syndicated radio program broadcast locally over KBLX. A contestant in the singing part of the eleventh annual Ford Neighborhood Awards, Simon serenaded Harvey live on the air with an a cappella rendition of the 1984 hit “Somebody Else’s Guy” by Jocelyn Brown. She had not given the prisoners advance notice of her performance, although many of them regularly tuned into Harvey’s popular 5-to-9 a.m. program anyway.
Three months later, in front of an audience of 18,000 at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, Simon beat out three other finalists in the Harvey-hosted national competition with a treatment of Jennifer Holliday’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls, which, like “Somebody Else’s Guy,” requires superhuman vocal prowess to pull off properly. She took home $10,000 for her efforts. Among the judges was Yolanda Adams, one of Simon’s favorite gospel singers.
A year earlier, Simon won a KBLX-sponsored Who’s Got Soul? contest at Tommy T’s in Pleasanton. That, along with the triumph in Vegas, helped make her the opening act of choice for many soul shows in the Bay Area. She has opened the KBLX Stone Soul Concert at the Concord Pavilion twice—in 2012 for Chaka Khan, Charlie Wilson, and others, and in 2014 for Gladys Knight, the O’Jays, and Freddie Jackson—and at Oakland’s Redwood Amphitheater for Eric Benet in 2012 and for Ginuwine two years later. And at the Black Repertory Theatre in Berkeley in June and at Yoshi’s in Oakland in August, she presented her own tributes to the late Whitney Houston.