Remembering Diana Rogers

On Tuesday, Jan. 9, Savannah lost a local legend. Diana Rogers, known for her piano playing, storytelling, fashion and larger than life personality, passed away at 76 years old. For many, her infectious love for music, laughter and life has become a part of Savannah’s storybook—a story that will get told again and again. 

“If you've been in the town any amount of time, you know of Diana Rogers. She was a very warm hearted, open person,” said Shelley Smith, who crossed paths with Rogers when she performed at La Scala. 

Rogers’ performances are too many to count and include stints at Suzabelle’s (now Cha Bella), First City Club, Vick’s on the River, The Olde Pink House and La Scala to name a few. Her evenings and weekends spent singing and playing the piano made her somewhat of a local celebrity. “When she would sing and play, we were entranced because she was truly a talent and she had that charisma, that thing, that it,” said Carole Cornett, one of Rogers’ best friends and first acquaintances in Savannah. 

click to enlarge Remembering Diana Rogers
Shelley Smith

Entertaining locals and visitors alike, Rogers would often wear an evening dress, a big, brimmed hat, long white gloves, and bright red lipstick. “She always had tons of jewelry on, usually a bangle that was also play part as being a flask. That was a constant on one of her wrists,” said Smith.

Rogers had a background in music. She took piano lessons as a child and earned her Bachelor’s degree in music from Oklahoma Baptist University. Along the way, she was always entertaining and participated in various pageants, with one giving her the title “Miss Congeniality.”

“I can see why she would win that kind of an award, because she really was that type of person,” said her brother, Jack Rogers, Jr.  

After college, she spent time performing in New Orleans, along with Chicago, Miami and New York City where she lived before moving to Savannah in 2003. Rogers discovered Savannah during a road trip back to New York after visiting her parents and brother in Texas, Jack said.

“She came East on I-20, out of Texas and wound up in Savannah, and then was going to go back to New York up I- 95. Well, I guess [she] got to Savannah and just loved it and decided to relocate here and really change her whole life,” said Jack.

Carole Cornett was one of the first people Rogers met when she was relocating to Savannah. They crossed paths at Suzabelle's Restaurant and Piano Bar where Cornett remembers Rogers was just arriving and thinking about living in Savannah because she fell in love with a house in downtown.

“The house was everything to her. It fit her personality. It fit her fabulous big white, grand piano. It had pink silk furniture. It had all glass enclosed cupboards that was around Art Deco look full of crystal and mementos and anything you ever wanted to know about would be in there. And it was it was there to stay,” said Cornett.

“You’d go upstairs, and she had probably twenty, 1950s hat racks lining the hallways, and then she would just have closets full of boas and coats and evening gowns and party dresses,” said Mark Ellis, who first met Rogers at First City Club when he moved to Savannah 15 years ago.

Shelley Smith from La Scalla agreed, “Her house is packed with so many things she’s collected. Her boudoir, her bathroom, they’re just flanked with dresses and jewels and costume jewelry and hats and mementos. It's a smorgasbord of eye candy that you can‘t imagine and all of these things centered around this grand piano in her parlor.”

Many in Savannah knew of her grand piano, through “Diana in the Parlor,” an opportunity for groups to make an appointment with Rogers and sing a variety of songs while having scones and champaign.

“She could sing anything. She could light up a room. When people would come in, those eyes would flash, those red lips would show up. Her nails were gorgeous. She dressed beautifully. Those feet were just tapping those petals all the time,” said Cornett.

click to enlarge Remembering Diana Rogers
Shelley Smith

Lynn Weddle first encountered those red lips and tapping feet in 2018 at The Olde Pink House when she took a friend to the downstairs tavern to have dinner.

“There was Diana playing piano, and I went up to her and said, ‘Hey, can I sing a song with you? I'll give you $5 if you'll let me sing a song with you.’ And she said, ‘Oh, you can sing it with me for free. But I wouldn't mind the five bucks,’” Weddle said who sang “The Glory of Love” with Rogers.

After Weddle realized she only lived a few blocks from Rogers, she began to have her over for dinner parties, enchanting her friends with performances and piano playing. “She was an icon. Everybody knew Diana Rodgers,” Weddle said. “She's just full of life and just so positive and she was a true legend in and around Savannah and other places where she came from.”

“She was a fabulous storyteller,” Mark Ellis remembers of her performances. “Part of the joy of her singing was that as she was singing, things would come to mind. So she rarely sang a song all the way through. It was usually a story in between.”

Her storytelling was motivated by her fascination with people. “She wanted to know about them. She wanted to know: Where are you from? What do you do? What do you like? Why? Why do you feel that way? Well, that's interesting. And they loved it,” said Cornett. 

Along with music and entertaining people, fashion and vintage pieces was another way she expressed her big, eccentric personality. “She'd be in the most amazing finery from the twenties with a pair of drugstore sandals on, and she was very real,” Ellis remembers.

“It wasn't like she was a real wealthy person just out buying extravagant things,” said Rogers’ brother Jack. “She was buying stuff at the flea market and could make it work and that was kind of her deal.”

It's clear Rogers amassed a following through her charisma, her glam and a genuine love of people. “She was tiny, but she was bigger than life. She just put it out there, she just had it,” said Cornett. 

Family and friends remembered Rogers during a celebration of life on Saturday, Jan. 13. She leaves behind treasured memories for all those knew her and knew of her.