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Noteworthy legacy: Family makes music a memorial to DJ Clark Race

Sunday, October 10, 1999

By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The late Clark Race is remembered by baby boomer radio listeners as a big part of the soundtrack of their youth. Whether they tuned in to hear the hits on his popular KDKA-AM radio program or danced to them on his "Dance Party" TV show or went to the sock hops so popular at the time, his name was synonymous with the burgeoning '60s pop music scene.

So it's fitting that his wife and family -- three months after his death -- have decided that any memorials in his name should go to places that will connect young people to music: Gateway to the Arts, for one, and a Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra drive that channels donated musical instruments to the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Race died in July at the age of 66 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

His wife, Diane, says people still remember the "Hello, Clark Race, Hello" intro to the TV show and recalled that nurses sang that to him as he was being wheeled into surgery last summer. "Of course, he replied, 'Hi, and welcome to the show!' " she recalls.

Music was his business, but he also loved it, his wife says. When he was a kid, he played accordion and trombone. But what he really wanted to do was play trumpet. He was the youngest of eight children growing up in the Depression era, so funds for a new trumpet just weren't there. Somehow, his dad saved the money and bought one.

"Clark loved it. Later he led his school band. When we bought our second bed and breakfast [Gabriel's Bed and Breakfast in New Wilmington], I always thought it was appropriate that it was named for the Archangel Gabriel."

The trumpet still hangs on the wall there.

In 1959, Race wrote and recorded "Shy Boy," a ballad-type song that was never released. His wife still has the demo tape. "He wasn't afraid to give it his best shot," she says.

Race's musical tastes spanned several genres. He went to a gospel church when he was young and always loved gospel music.

"I think its spirit was the source for his appreciation for a variety of styles: early rock 'n' roll, pop, country and classical," Diane says.

Maybe the fact that he really liked music is why he eventually left radio. Race was the guy at KDKA who picked up on a new record called "Roses Are Red" by an aspiring singer named Bobby Vinton and broke it to hit status.

"He had a talent to recognize a hit," his wife recalls. "When he first went to L.A., he could play what he wanted. He could make a hit or play some oddball little thing if he liked it. At some point, program directors had the power over the DJs. They prescribed what could be played. He became less enchanted with radio when that became the case."

When he returned to Pittsburgh, stations wanted to slot him into an oldies format, playing the same songs he used to play. "He was a little unhappy being designated that way, because when he played that, it was new music. He was always looking for something new."

In recent years, he liked listening to artists as diverse as Natalie Merchant, Enya and Kenny Rogers.

After his death, Diane put a lot of thought and research into what would be the best way for people to remember her husband. She finally settled on Gateway to the Arts, a 42-year-old organization that sends live theater, dance and music programs into area schools, giving thousands of kids exposure to the performing arts.

The other is the Pittsburgh Symphony Education and Outreach Program, which has launched a musical instrument drive. People who have instruments in good condition can donate them to the Symphony, which will turn them over to Pittsburgh Public Schools. Donors receive tax-deductible receipts for the instruments.

Both organizations are dedicated to "giving back to the community and helping create future professional musicians," Diane says. "Our hope is that other young people's lives may be enriched and made more joyful through music."

Tax-deductible contributions in Clark Race's name can be made to Gateway to the Arts, 2010 B Smallman St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or call 412-261-9221. For information on donating to the Pittsburgh Symphony's musical instrument drive, call 412-392-4870.

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