Omar Sharriff (Born Dave Alexander) March 10, 1938 – January 8, 2012
Texas blues pianist Omar Shariff (a/k/a David Alexander) passed away on Sunday, January 8, 2012 at the age of 73 years old, evidently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Born in Shreveport but raised in nearby Marshall, Texas the young David Alexander Elam was a second-generation, self-taught pianist. Since the Marshall area is largely thought of as the birthplace of the boogie-woogie style of piano blues, Elam picked up plenty of boogie flavor learning from the originators of the style. Elam joined the Army at the age of 17 and, after a two-year hitch, he relocated to Oakland, California in 1957.
Dropping his last name and playing as Dave Alexander, the pianist backed up some of the legends of the blues, from Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy to Big Mama Thornton and Jimmy Weatherspoon, among many others. Alexander performed at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival in 1970, regularly appeared at the San Francisco Blues Festival during the 1970s, and toured Europe several times. Through the years, Alexander would also become a vocal advocate for the blues and African-American culture, and contributed several articles to Living Blues magazine.
Alexander recorded sporadically and infrequently during his lengthy career, recording three albums for Arhoolie Records during the 1970s, the best of which - his 1972 album The Raven - is widely considered a textbook on boogie-woogie blues. In the mid-1970s, Alexander changed his name to Omar Khayam and performed as Omar the Magnificent. Sometime later he changed his identity again and became known as Omar Shariff, the name under which he recorded a number of albums during the 1990s for the small independent Have Mercy! record label.
R.I.P Omar Sharriff
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