January 9, 2009 at 1:00 am

Sept. 23, 1992

From the archive: Earl Van Dyke, studio pianist for Motown greats, dies at 62

Earl Van Dyke was a lifelong musician who had played piano for a host of musical celebrities, including many of the great Motown singers.Mr. Van Dyke, who was born in Detroit, died of prostate cancer Friday, Sept. 18, 1992, in Harper Hospital, Detroit. He was 62.

He once told The Detroit News that he took his earliest piano lessons when he was 5. "My father wouldn't let me quit. He was determined that I was going to play piano.

"You know how boys are. I wanted to play ball."

Although trained in classical piano at Julliard in New York, his forte was rhythm and blues. He returned to Detroit in 1961 to become a studio musician for Motown, where he helped arrange and play background music for many of the Motown stars.

When Motown moved to Hollywood, Mr. Van Dyke hit the road again and, on occasion, worked for Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Barbara McNair and Billy Eckstine.

Thomas "Dr. Beans" Bowles, a Motown saxophonist who had known Mr. Van Dyke for 40 years, said Mr. Van Dyke took on the role of band leader for the Funk Brothers.

"Everybody looked to him to keep the rhythm section together," Bowles said. "He was the one that had the glue _ the cohesiveness _ that kept them together."

Bowles said the pianist was able to communicate with other band members through eye contact only.

"That's why they can't be duplicated," Bowles said of the group. "They played as one."

In 1980, Mr. Van Dyke began teaching jazz and accompanying dance classes at Osborn High School in Detroit. He retired in 1991.

Mr. Van Dyke was a member of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Detroit for 30 years. Brother Hugh Henderson, executive administrator at St. Anthony Parish, remembered him as more than musician.

"I feel it's most important that Mr. Van Dyke also be remembered as a devoted husband and father, a warm and caring family man," Henderson said.

Surviving are his wife, Millicent Blenman Van Dyke; two daughters, Patricia Murphy and Mary Van Dyke; two grandchildren; and a step-grandchild.

Services are set for 11 a.m. today in St. Anthony Catholic Church, 5247 Sheridan, Detroit. Burial will be in Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.

Memorials may be sent to the St. Anthony Church Organ Fund in care of the church.

Arrangements were handled by the James Cole Funeral Home, 2624 W. Grand Boulevard, Detroit.