2006-01-01 22:55:12 UTC
By Michael Lollar
Memphis Commercial Appeal
December 29, 2005
James Austin Jr. brought home a plaque and a certificate from the Vocal
Group Hall of Fame in July after more than three decades as the
"velvet-voiced" baritone of two versions of the vintage group The
"He was the coolest dude I knew, the guy I wanted to be like," said
soul legend Isaac Hayes of his friend, who died Saturday of lung
After collecting his Hall of Fame certificate, Mr. Austin, 68, was
planning a tour to Singapore with the group that made famous such
American classic recordings as "The Great Pretender" and The Platters'
versions of "Only You" and "Twilight Time," and such standards as
"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," "Harbor Lights" and "Red Sails In the
His wife, Janet 'J.P.' Netters-Austin, said her husband had to give up
plans for the tour. He complained of feeling "tired and sluggish" only
to learn he was in an advanced stage of lung cancer. Mr. Austin had
just recently recorded A Tribute to Nat King Cole, in honor of the
musician, who, coincidentally, died of the same kind of cancer.
Hayes said the tribute to Cole was a beautiful album with a jazz feel
that captured the nuances of Cole. "James epitomizes what Memphis
talent has been over the years." And in spite of his cool style, Mr.
Austin "had no big head or ego trips or anything like that. Anybody who
met him wanted to be like him."
The Memphis musician had traveled the world as part of one of the most
beloved musical legacies in doo-wop and rhythm and blues history. He
joined a version of the group in 1968, singing at one time with Herb
Reed and at another with original Platter Sonny Turner. At a benefit
concert for Mr. Austin in November, entertainers included Hayes, Bill
Pinkney of The Drifters, Sonny Turner, guitarist Calvin Newborn and
former Stax artist J. Blackfoot.
"He had a velvet kind of voice -- smooth as velvet," Blackfoot said of
a friend who had helped him find music gigs through the years.
"He was a great individual, always trying to help people," said
Blackfoot, a former member of the Bar-Kays and the Soul Children.
Mr. Austin's producer, Clayton McGonigle, said Mr. Austin last year
recorded an album called Goin' Back to Memphis. It has not yet been
Mr. Austin's wife said they had spent seven years in Las Vegas before
returning to Memphis to be near family a year ago.
Services for Mr. Austin will be at noon today at Mt. Vernon Baptist
Church Westwood. In addition to his wife, he leaves two brothers,
William Austin and Victor Austin of Memphis; three sisters, Aranda
Robinson of Detroit and Violetta Rollins and Vishnu Jennings of
Memphis; four daughters, Tonyus Chavers of Minneapolis, Angela Austin
of Jacksonville, Fla., Linnea Epstein of Seattle and Kim Netters of
Memphis; three sons, Terry Chavers of Memphis, James L. Netters III of
Las Vegas and Julian Netters of Atlanta, and four grandchildren.