Ann Dee, 85; Singer, Club Owner Helped Start Mathis’ Career

From a Times Staff Writer

Ann Dee, a singer and San Francisco club owner who helped boost the careers of Johnny Mathis and other entertainers, has died. She was 85.

Dee died March 22 at her home in Joshua Tree, Calif., of unspecified causes.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Apr. 06, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 06, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Ann Dee obituary -- An obituary for singer and club owner Ann Dee in Monday’s California section misspelled the surname of singer Fran Jeffries as Jefferies. The obituary also stated that Capitol Records’ George Avakian signed Johnny Mathis to a recording contract. Avakian worked for Columbia Records and signed Mathis to that company.

Born Angela Maria De Spirito, Dee had some success in her youth as a cabaret and supper club singer. But for several years, she suffered vocal problems.

During that period, she became better known as the owner of Ann’s 440 Club in San Francisco’s North Beach area, where she showcased young singers and comedians. In 1955, she hired a 19-year-old named Johnny Mathis after hearing him sing in a bar just two weeks into his professional career.


Capitol Records’ George Avakian was persuaded to visit the 440 Club to hear Mathis and signed him to a recording contract.

Dee also gave early exposure to entertainers Lenny Bruce, Fran Jefferies, T.C. Jones and Charles Pierce.

By the 1960s, Dee had regained her singing voice and, in addition to recording for Capitol, had long engagements at such venues as Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills.

The late Times critic and jazz expert Leonard Feather, reviewing one of those engagements in 1968, said Dee lacked emotional involvement and “stresses force rather than feeling.”


But another Times writer, reviewing her performance at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in 1973, praised her as “a sophisticated singer with a big, belting voice, fine vocal technique and great interpretive skill.” He called her delivery of “Free Again” a “masterpiece of irony” and her singing of “Send in the Clowns” an example of “pure class.”

Dee is survived by a brother, Lee De Spirito.