Cherry Blossoms

Jesse Owens

December 2, 1930 ~ January 21, 2022 (age 91) 91 Years Old


Jesse Owens, age 91, passed away after a lengthy illness on January 21st, 2022.Jesse was born on December 2nd, 1930, to the late Cora Lee Owens-Kemper and Scott Owens.

Jesse was born in Oklahoma, but moved to Akron, OH, where he attended and graduated from East High School. Jesse was a Star Athlete, both in football and track, as well as an honors student, during his high school tenure.  He worked as a shoe-shine boy at the Portage Hotel Barber Shop to earn money for singing lessons. While working there, one of the barbers encouraged him to audition for the Horace Heidt Show. Heidt, in correlation with Phillip Morris, sponsored the CBS’ Horace Heidt Original Youth Opportunity Program, to provide Negro youths with chances at stardom. Reluctantly, Jesse entered and won. Jesse received an unbridled ovation for his rendition of “The Glory Road,” and for twelve consecutive weeks, consistently won the $250 prizes as he toured with the show across the country.  With his unique, baritone voice, Jesse went on to win the top prize, $5000, after being selected as the winner, over four, white contestants.  This victory not only proved that in 1950, a young, Negro man, with a rich, resonant, and virile voice could be destined to make his mark in the world, but consequently, earned him a permanent spot with the Horace Heidt Show. Jesse starred in each night’s show, notably referred to as the Heidt-Phillip Morris “Parade of Stars.”While with the show, Jesse traveled the United States, performing at Radio City Music Hall; Cleveland’s Public Auditorium; Jackson, Mississippi; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Detroit, Michigan; and Washington, D.C S.’s Uline Arena, just to name a few. He also toured overseas, to perform on an Air-Force Sponsored Mission, to entertain U.S. GI’s. He traveled to Europe, Britain, Germany, and Italy and sang at prominent locations such as the Wiesbaden Opera House, the Messepalast in Vienna, the Palais Chaillot in Paris, the Titantia Palace in Berlin, and the Krone Circus in Munich.

Jesse was very diligent in perfecting his craft. He could oftentimes be heard practicing while in the bathtub and while helping to unload the prop trucks. He continued his singing lessons under the tutelage of Agnes Spetzler, noted European voice coach. Jesse is best recognized for the prize-winning selections, including the well-known spiritual, “Shadrach, Meshack, Abednego” and “Jungle.” He has been featured in newspapers across the United States, including, but not limited to, The Jackson Advocate, The Ohio Daily Express and The Detroit Tribune.  He is also featured in books throughout Germany, due to his notoriety of being the first African American to earn a spot on the Horace Heidt Show. While touring with the show, Jesse was drafted into the United States Army. After leaving the Army, Jesse moved to New York, where he was accepted into Julliard’s School of Music. After attending Julliard for a short time, Jesse decided to end his singing career.

He went on to work for the United States Postal Service in New York. After 30 years of employment, Jesse retired and moved back to Akron, OH to care for his mother.  

Despite his strong, virile, baritone voice, Jesse will be remembered for his humility and his quiet, but kind, nature. Unbeknownst to most, Jesse had quite a sense of humor, oftentimes surprising those with his contagious, jovial laughter. Unambiguously, Jesse will be remembered most for his profound faith in God. Jesse was a member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish and was a devout Catholic, attending Mass faithfully every day and assisting with church services untiringly.  Jesse had a very strong faith and the way he lived his life, exemplified his deep love for God. He looked forward to spending eternity with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Jesse was preceded in death by his parents, brother, Johnny Owens, and sister, Dorothy Choate. He leaves to cherish his memory, his caregiver and whom he often referred to as, his “favorite Niece”, Tonya Dillon, Nieces, Shonda Owens, and Shirley Kelley, along with a host of great nieces, great nephews, relatives, and friends.

Services will be held on Tuesday, January 25th, 2022, 11 am at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, 83 Mosser Place; Akron, OH 44310.

Calling hours will be held from 9:30am-10:30 am at Hennessy Funeral Home, corner of York and Main, 552 N. Main St., Akron, OH 44310 with Services immediately following. Private Interment at Sunset Hills Memory Gardens, 5001 Everhard Rd NW, Canton, OH 44718, on Wednesday, January 26th, 2022.

The family requests that cards and condolences be sent to Tonya Dillon; 2683 10th Street, Cuyahoga Falls, 44221.

Private, family-only repast will be held immediately following the Services.

The family would like to thank the Staff at Summa Hospital, Summa’s Hospice Care Team, and the Staff at Heritage of Hudson for the compassionate care and kindness they showed during Jesse’s lengthy illness. Thank you for all you did for him and the help and services that you offered to Tonya and the family.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Jesse Owens, please visit our floral store.


January 25, 2022

9:30 AM to 10:30 AM
Hennessy Funeral Home
552 North Main Street
Akron, OH 44310

Funeral Mass
January 25, 2022

11:00 AM
St. Anthony of Padua Parish
83 Mosser Place
Akron, Ohio 44310


© 2022 Hennessy Funeral Home. All Rights Reserved. Funeral Home website by CFS & TA | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Accessibility