David Peaston, 54, an R&B and gospel singer who scored national fame after winning on "Showtime at the Apollo" during the late '80s, died Wednesday (Feb. 1, 2012) from complications of diabetes at his home in St. Louis.
Mr. Peaston's niece Neuka Mitchell, daughter of "Rescue Me" singer Fontella Bass, confirmed his death Thursday and said he was surrounded by his family, including his wife and sons, when he died.
Mr. Peaston lived with diabetes since the '90s, and his right leg was amputated at the knee in March 2004; his left leg also was later amputated.
When he was preparing to be honored at the 2004 event "A Celebration of Love in St. Louis," he struggled with whether he had let his disease prevent him from ever performing on stage again.
"I didn't want to be back in the public," he told the Post-Dispatch that year. "I wasn't embarrassed or ashamed, but I felt I let myself down and, therefore, I let everyone else down. It was my fault for being sick, and I didn't want anybody to see me like that."
Mr. Peaston carried on. By 2004, he lost 200 pounds, and he sang with the St. Louis group the Distinguished Gents for the past five years. The group, which also features St. Louis gospel singer Leslie Johnson, performed its mix of classical, jazz and gospel songs annually at the Ethical Society of St. Louis.
He also toured Europe until his older sister, Fontella Bass, fell ill. Bass has survived breast cancer and multiple strokes and also has had a leg amputed.
Mr. Peaston, a former schoolteacher whose mother was Martha Bass of the Clara Ward singers, tried his hand on TV's "Showtime at the Apollo," where he wowed audiences with his sky-high falsetto and his rendition of "God Bless the Child."
His multiple wins on the show led to his signing a major recording deal in the late '80s with Geffen Records.
Mr. Peaston was a Soul Train Award winner, toured with Gladys Knight and saw the release of two major label albums, 1989's "Introducing … David Peaston" and 1991's "Mixed Emotions," and had hits including "Can I," "Two Wrongs (Don't Make a Right)" and "We're All in This Together."
Mr. Peaston was also a veteran of traveling gospel plays such as "Momma Don't."
"He was definitely the greatest unsung artist I know, a fabulous vocalist who was unmatched," Mitchell said. "He had the kind of talent you don't see today."
Singer Cheryl Pepsii Riley, who toured with Mr. Peaston in "Momma Don't" and other shows, said in a statement to black music website eurweb.com that she loved "this man with the hearty laugh, great sense of humor, that incredible voice, and he was the most amazing friend."
Funeral services will be private. But there will be a musical tribute to Peaston at 4 p.m. Feb. 11 at his church, Shalom City of Peace (Lindbergh campus).
In addition to his sister, among the survivors are his wife, Marilyn; two sons, Daniel Peaston and Darrius Peaston of St. Louis; and a granddaughter, Darriya Peaston of St. Louis.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Martha Bass and James Peaston.