Cleveland music legend Michael Stanley dies at 72

Ohio

Michael Stanley's music career spanned five decades

CLEVELAND (WJW)– Devastating news for music fans in Cleveland. Michael Stanley, 72, has died. He was diagnosed with lung cancer last fall and fought until the very end. 

Michael Stanley Gee was born in 1948, the same year the Indians won the World Series. He loved baseball, playing throughout his childhood in Cleveland and Rocky River. His ability earned him a baseball scholarship to Hiram College. 

Michael also loved music. He learned to play guitar after watching performers like Elvis and Beatles on television. He played in several bands while he was a student at Rocky River High School, including The Scepters and “Tree Stumps. He played with the band Sylk during his college years. 

Between his love of baseball and his love of music, music won out and he started focusing on his songwriting. In 1973, Michael recorded “Rosewood Bitters,” a song that would stick with him throughout his career and become a fan favorite. 

In between recording sessions, Michael worked for a record store in Cleveland. One day, he was asked to perform at a rival store and he was let go. Michael had a decision to make. 

“I was fired from my job, just bought a new car, had two babies and no employment between us, and I was like… What am I going to do now?”   

Out of the need to just pay the bills, the Michael Stanley Band was formed.  They started getting regional recognition, and were asked to open for bands like Reo Speedwagon, Cheap Trick, Foreigner, and Joe Walsh, who played with Michael on his second album.

Michael Stanley Band (Photo courtesy: Cleveland Memory Project)

MSB went on to record albums like “Ladies’ Choice” and “Cabin Fever.” They were gaining more fans, as evident by several sold-out shows at the Agora in Cleveland. Michael recalled what is was like back then, “The Agora held like 800 to 900 people, and for one show we put in 2,500.” 

Michael Stanley Band made it big with the release of “Heartland,” going from opening act to headliner.  The album stayed in the top 100 for more than eight weeks. It spawned two huge hits: “Lover” with the iconic saxophone of the late Clarence Clemons from the E. Street Band and “He Can’t Love You,” which was one of the first videos on MTV. It shot the single to number 33 on the Billboard Top 100. 

The early 80s albums “North Coast” and “MSB” brought the band back to Blossom Music center, where they shattered attendance records show after show. The success even landed MSB on American Bandstand. It was a huge dream come true for Michael. 

“To be on the show and have Dick Clark react to us as excited as he would have been to see Led Zepplin, that was great,” Michael said.

MSB broke up in the mid-80s and allowed Michael the chance to start the second half of his career.  Michael co-hosted PM Magazine on FOX 8 for several years. He also followed in the footsteps of his father Stan Gee, a longtime radio DJ and announcer. Michael spent 30 years broadcasting on 98.5 WNCX. He earned 11 Emmy awards and is a member of the Cleveland Broadcasters Hall of Fame. 

Michael Stanley and the Resonators

Despite his success, he dealt with several challenges that could have ended his career: a near-fatal heart attack in the early 90s, losing his mother to pancreatic cancer and losing his third wife Denise to lung cancer. Michael himself battled prostate cancer, but his music allowed him to gain perspective and provide an outlet. In a 2014 interview, Michael talked about the struggles. 

“You have to choose how you’re going to deal with that. Are you going to curl up and sit like a sick dog until it’s over? Or live your life? And hopefully, that’s the choice I made.” 

In 2019, Michael received the Cleveland Arts Prize Lifetime Achievement award and Cleveland City Council renamed Huron Road “Michael Stanley Way.”

In the fall of 2020, Michael fought lung cancer. Ultimately, the disease took his life. During his 50 years of music and 70-plus years on earth, Michael Stanley was synonymous with Cleveland. His memory lives on with his children, grandchildren and 40 albums worth of music.   

Michael’s family thanks the fans for always being there and for their love and support. Michael will be laid to rest in a private service at Lake View Cemetery. His family asks that contributions in Michael’s name be made to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and the Cleveland Animal Protective League. 

Stanley’s family released a statement to radio station 98.5 Saturday morning:

Cleveland singer and songwriter Michael Stanley Gee passed away peacefully at home on March 5th with his family by his side. He was 72 years old. Michael battled lung cancer for seven months with the same strength and dignity he carried throughout his life. He will always be remembered as a loving father, brother, husband, a loyal friend, and the leader of one of Cleveland’s most successful rock bands.

Michael will be laid to rest at Lake View Cemetery. The service will be private. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory can be made to the Cleveland Food Bank (www.greaterclevelandfoodbank.org) and/or the Cleveland Animal Protective League (www.clevelandapl.org). Michael’s family would like to thank Hospice of the Western Reserve for their dedicated care, his friends and extended family for “being there”, and his fans for their love and support during the past forty years. As he always said, “It’s your world, pay attention.”

Stanley family

Michael Stanley also wrote a letter to his fans before his passing, as shared by 98.5:

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