“Simon’s on the radio!” an inmate on San Quentin’s death row called out early one morning two years ago. Other cheers of excitement filled the cellblock, leaving guards puzzled about what all the fuss was about until Simon herself showed up for work as a licensed vocational nurse at the death-row medical clinic.
Danesha Simon, also a soul singer known as Dee Dee, had woke up early that morning at her home in East Oakland to take an expected phone call from the producers of “The Steve Harvey Morning Show,” which is broadcast locally on KBLX. As a contestant in the singing competition of the eleventh annual Ford Neighborhood Awards, Simon serenaded Harvey live on-air with an a cappella rendition of the 1984 hit “Somebody Else’s Guy” by Jocelyn Brown.
Three months later, in front of an audience of 18,000 at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, Simon beat out three other finalists in the national competition hosted by Harvey with a treatment of Jennifer Holliday’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls,” which like “Somebody Else’s Guy” requires superhuman vocal prowess to pull off.
She took home $10,000 for her efforts.
In the past year, the Oakland vocalist has focused on a series of tribute shows to Whitney Houston, bringing audiences at the Black Repertory Theatre and Yoshi’s to their feet as she executed one powerful, pitch-perfect sustain after another and flawlessly negotiated half-step-up key modulations that were among Houston’s trademarks.
Now, on Tuesday, April 14, at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, Simon will present for the first time a concert of her own songs, titled “The Essence of a Woman.” The show, also featuring singers Lady Bianca and J’Neen, will begin at 8 p.m. at 401 14th St. in Oakland.
“I was always apprehensive about doing my own music because I like to do songs that I know the people are gonna know and enjoy and sing along with,” Simon says. “I said, ‘The heck with it. I’m doing my own songs, my own style, and I’m gonna put my heart into it.’”
Simon rehearses with her band several nights a week and on Saturday afternoons, prepares her role in “Lord, Why Can’t I Do Right,” a musical that debuted at Oakland’s Malonga Center for the Arts in January by playwright Richard Torrance and director Michael Lange.
Having worked at San Quentin for the past eight years, Simon’s duties include giving death-row inmates injections, and treating abscesses and other skin problems. “You can’t worry about what they’ve done, what their past is,” she says. “You have to go in with the mindset of a nurse who cares for people and not be biased.”
When asked how she manages to squeeze so much into her schedule, Simon says, “I have a good support system in God.”
Tickets for Simon’s April 14 show are $20. For more information, call (510) 839-4644.