Red Lehr (1937-2021)

Jazz Sousaphone Artist

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The Legend of Red Lehr


Obituary for David “Red” Lehr
September 19, 1937 - January 5, 2021

David E. “Red” Lehr, 83, of New Athens, IL, born Sunday, September 19, 1937 in Tilden, IL, passed away Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at his residence in New Athens, IL.

A 1955 graduate of New Athens High School, David “Red” Lehr began his music career at age 5, when he was big enough to stand on an orange crate box and play his daddy’s trombone at the Tilden, IL picnic. In grade school, as the strongest and tallest kid, he began to play the big Conn Sousaphone. His unique technique and showmanship led to concerts with the St. Louis Symphony Pops Orchestra and the Honolulu Symphony. He and Jean Kittrell took the “Jazz Incredibles” to Europe (Scotland, Netherlands, France, England, Italy, and Germany) six times as well as Japan and Canada. While performing at the Breda International Festival in the Netherlands they were voted the most entertaining band. In a poll taken by “The American Rag” jazz newspaper, Red was voted by the fans as their favorite Jazz tuba/sousaphone player. He was also picked to play in the international band at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. Red traveled throughout the U.S. playing jazz festivals and many jazz cruises. Of course, he played in St. Louis and the surrounding area for over 60 years. Red credited Jean Kittrell and Gene Pokorny, principal tuba player in the Chicago Symphony, for much of his success in music, though he gave special kudos to his wife Carolyn.

Red has operated Lehr’s Market in New Athens since 1972 with his wife Carolyn. Their son Jeff joined them in the business in the late 70’s and took over from his father upon his retirement.

Admired by classical as well as jazz musicians, Red has been featured in regional, national, and international conferences of brass instruments in Illinois, Kentucky, and in Ft. Meyers, VA where the Sergeant Major awarded him the “Medal of Excellence” and the General John J. Pershing Founders Medal” during the U.S. Army Band’s International Conference. Red eventually became the leader of the St, Louis Rivermen, and Red Lehr’s Powerhouse Five bands. He made over 25 records, cassettes, and CD’s of his beloved traditional Dixieland Jazz.

He was a member of St. John United Church of Christ in New Athens, IL and American Legion Post #6632 Red Bud, IL. He was a Veteran whom served in the United States Army.

A farmer, butcher with his own meat processing plant and market, real estate entrepreneur, and would-class sharp-shooter, Red is also an astounding virtuoso of the sousaphone, combining unique technique with showmanship. At five years old, he stood on an orange crate to play his daddy’s trombone. In grade school, as the strongest and tallest kid, he began to play the big sousaphone with which he has intrigued audiences ever since. His professional musical career began in St. Louis’ Gaslit Square at Your Father’s Mustache in 1963. St. Louis Cardinal baseball fans will appreciate the sentimental value of Red’s playing at the very last baseball game in Sportsman’s Park and also at the grand opening first ballgame in the new Busch Stadium.

In 1965, Red moved to the Banjo Palace with the Old St. Louis Levee Band, followed by two years at The Sting. In 1978, he joined Jean Kittrell on the Lt. Robert E. Lee, bringing his OSLLB. They played to SRO crowds every Saturday night for 13 years (1978-1990). In 1979, Red joined the Jazz Incredibles to play every Friday nite on the Lee; and in 1982, he joined the newly formed St. Louis Rivermen. Red was hand-picked for an all-star 7-piece International Band at the 1994 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. He was selected by readers of The American Rag in a national survey in 2000 as their favorite of all jazz sousaphonists. Admired by classical as well as jazz musicians, Red has been starred in regional and national conferences of brass instruments (Champaign, IL, 1973; Lexington KY 1990; Bloomington IL 2005). He has appeared in concert with Billy Butterfield, Jack Maheu, Barrett Deems, Ernie Carson, Jerry Fuller, and Pee Wee Mates.

-2006 Army Tuba Euphonium Conference Program