Courtney H. Allen, a Lexington singer and pianist whose audiences ranged from the queen of England to Lexington bar patrons, died Friday at his home. He was 71.
"He sang with so much feeling," said Lutisha Coleman Morton, a friend who attended the old Dunbar High School with Mr. Allen and became a lifelong fan of his music. "He would just let it all out."
In 2004, then-Herald-Leader columnist Don Edwards wrote of Mr. Allen, "There are some people whom it would be difficult for me to imagine Lexington without, and one of them is singer and pianist Courtney Allen," Edwards wrote that Mr. Allen's "bass-baritone voice was soulful and heroic at the same time" and that he "put an indefinable, spiritual something into a song."
Mr. Allen, who worked 27 years at IBM before retiring, was a member of the Lexington Singers for 48 years, performing twice with them at New York's Carnegie Hall. He was singing until the end, performing a solo at the May 22 Festival of Choirs in Lexington.
Never miss a local story.
There were many highlights in his career, including singing solos in Ernest Bloch's Avodath Hakodesh in Hebrew and performing the bass solos in Messiah with the Lexington Philharmonic. Mr. Allen made several operatic appearances, including the role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess.
He performed at local piano bars and at private parties, particularly for the horse set, even playing once for the Queen of England when she visited Kentucky.
He played nine years on the special train governors take to the Kentucky Derby.
He knew about 2,000 songs.
Dave McWhorter, president of the Jazz Arts Foundation, said Mr. Allen came from a musical family. But, he said, Mr. Allen "never professed to be a jazz musician like his brother, Mike." Mike Allen, who died in January 2005 at the age of 60, was known as "the Muhammad Ali of Lexington jazz musicians."
Courtney Allen, McWhorter said, "always wanted to be known simply as an entertainer."
Mr. Allen, who majored in voice at Knoxville College, "always had a fun time performing," McWhorter said. "He had this wonderful smile. Lexington has lost somebody very special."
Mr. Allen is survived by his wife, Angela, and four children.
Visitation is 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Harrodsburg Road.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Consolidated Baptist Church. Burial will be in Evergreen Memory Gardens.