Old time music is in the air in Wildwood, NJ, June 5, 2019 evening as artists and fans gather together to celebrate the East Coast Music Hall of Fame’s First Annual Awards Gala at the Wildwoods Convention Center.
The East Coast Music Hall of Fame is an organization dedicated to the preservation of music from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ‘70s. Approximately one year ago, the group came up with the idea of presenting an Awards Gala to honor legendary and current music makers. The production was conceived and developed by ECMHOF president Tommy Petillo, vice president Bill Grieco, producer Joseph Mirrione, and musical director Mark Baron.
At tonight’s First Annual Awards Gala, the ECMHOF is poised to present 42 awards in three distinct categories, including 16 Lifetime Achievement Awards, 12 Legend Awards to honor the brightest stars of the past, and 14 Music Maker Awards designed to recognize today’s talent.
The Gala will also feature live musical performances from a variety of artists including Ronnie Spector and former lead singer of The Buckinghams, Dennis Tufano, along with presentations by other notables including The Rascals’ Eddie Brigati and entertainer Tony Orlando.
Before the awards ceremony begins, there’s a meet and greet in the Wildwoods Convention Center ballroom where fans can get an up close and personal with many of the award recipients and presenters appearing in tonight’s presentation. Stars include such legendary performers as Bobby Rydell, The Tokens’ Jay Seigel, Lou Christie, Connie Francis, and Joey Dee.
Inside the ballroom, we take a moment to chat with Lifetime Achievement honoree, Connie Francis, who tells us, “I’d like to thank the East Coast Music Hall of Fame for this wonderful honor.”
Reveals Francis, “Over the course of my career, I’ve always loved performing in New Jersey, and one of my favorite places to perform was in Atlantic City. I have such dedicated fans in New Jersey. Last night, a fan even gave me a poster from a concert I performed here in Wildwood back in 1959,” before exclaiming, “I remember it well!”
We also chat with Lifetime Achievement honoree Joey Dee, who remarks, “This event is awesome — just fabulous!”
Continuing, “It’s going to be an emotional evening — we’ll have video tributes to Johnny Maestro and The Skyliners’ Jimmy Beaumont,” Dee smiles before concluding, “And I just got Connie Francis’ autograph!”
During the meet and greet, we also chat with several fans including Lance from Hillside who says, “This is a fun event where you can meet celebrities and get to talk to them,” adding, “I go to a lot of these events and always find them well worth attending.”
Noting, “I’m a big fan of Connie Francis — she’s my favorite artist,” Lance notes with a smile, “She even signed some of the albums I bought.”
Lastly, we chat with a family of three from Montgomery.
Daughter M’Kayla is a 17-year-old high school junior who is wearing a ’50s style dress, saddle shoes, and bobby sox, in addition to sporting a pocketbook which features illustrations of her two favorite singers — Buddy Holly and Dion.
Explains M’Kayla, “I love doo-wop music because it’s good music. My dad introduced me to it. I love the whole decade,” before adding, “and I love Bobby Rydell, too!”
Says mom, Gabi, “M’Kayla is a fan of any music from 1953 to 1963; she even got me into it. She has hundreds of record albums — not to mention 45s — and hundreds of autographs which she’s been collecting since she was 14. She’s even learning to play some ’50s songs on her guitar, thanks to this music.”
Continuing, “We’re here tonight, especially because we want to honor Bobby Rydell; we follow him everywhere,” Gabi explains, “He’s so amazing, and he so deserves the Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s just the sweetest pea in the pod!”
M’Kayla’s Dad, “Doc,” agrees noting, “I used to listen to all this music with my parents, and now I can share it with my daughter,” acknowledging, “Sometimes my dad will still come to concerts with us, so then we’ll have three generations of fans,” before declaring, “There’s nothing else like this type of music!”
Following the meet and greet, we make our way over to the main auditorium where we catch up with one of tonight’s presenters — The Drifters’ Charlie Thomas — who jokes, “I’m here because they gave me a ticket and a seat!” Commenting on the type of early rock and roll honored by the ECMHOF, Thomas exclaims, “The ‘rock’ might be a little chipped, but the ‘roll’ has still got a little butter on it!”
We also chat with the first person who will take the stage tonight, an up-and-coming singer from Staten Island, NY, who’s making a name for himself with his energetic performances of music from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, Vinnie Medugno.
Explains Medugno, “I think the East Coast Music Hall of Fame Gala is an amazing event, and being selected to sing a song by Lou Christie in the opening medley is a true honor.”
Predicting, “The audience tonight is in for a real treat!” Medugno reflects, “I’m so happy to be one of the guys who will carry the torch for this music to the next generation. We’re keeping the light on and we’re gonna keep it burning,” before noting, “But this music has never died — it’s as alive now as it ever was.”
The lights dim and tonight’s presentation begins. Backed by a large orchestra conducted by musical director and pianist Mark Baron, Vinnie Medugno takes the stage where he launches into a medley of classic songs representing several of tonight’s honorees starting with his rendition of Lou Christie’s 1966 classic, “Lightnin’ Strikes.”
Doreen Arminio belts out Connie Francis’ 1958 hit, “Stupid Cupid,” accompanied on the saxophone by her Music Maker award-winning husband, musician Joey Arminio, along with musical director Mark Baron on piano.
Show emcee Emil Stucchio performs Bobby Rydell’s 1960 recording, “Wild One,” before welcoming the audience to tonight’s event.
The audience cheers as the recipient of tonight’s first Lifetime Achievement Award is announced — Willie Winfield, an original member of The Harptones.
To honor Winfield, Stan Zizka and The Del Satins serenade him with their rendition of The Harptones’ 1955 hit, “Life Is But A Dream,” the vocals sounding smooth and dreamy on this classic doo-wop ballad.
Then, following a short video, Music Maker award-winning historians Charlie and Pam Horner present Winfield, 89, with his trophy, referring to him as “The Sultan of Smooth” and thanking him “for bringing a little sunshine to all of us.”
The audience stands for this music legend who waves to the crowd exclaiming, “Hello, everybody! I love everybody out there and I wish you a long life!”
The next award goes to Vito Picone, who not only sang with The Elegants, but also appeared as an actor in films like Goodfellas and on TV in shows like The Sopranos. Singer Al Contrera presents Picone with his award revealing, “He’s been imitated but never duplicated,” explaining, “Dion says that it was Vito Picone’s vocal style which influenced him.”
The audience stands as Picone speaks from his heart, thanking everyone for this honor, before The Elegants join him in singing his 1958 chart-topper, “Little Star.”
To honor Lifetime Achievement Award recipient music publisher, concert producer, and founder of NJ’s Clifton Music — Ronnie Italiano — Music Maker award-winning singer Kid Kyle takes to the stage announcing, “It’s an honor to do this for Ronnie tonight.”
Performing Neil Sedaka’s first big hit, 1958’s “The Diary,” Kyle’s voice cries and soars on this ballad as three-part vocal harmonies “ooh” and “aah” below his warm tenor.
A highlight of tonight’s ceremony is the Lifetime Achievement presentation to musician Joey Dee. The audience stands as singer Ronnie Spector — the voice behind The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” — takes the stage.
Spector relates the story of how, in 1961, she and her friends were waiting to get into the Joey Dee and The Starliters’ show at NYC’s Peppermint Lounge. According to Spector, “The manager came out and brought us inside thinking we were the dancers he had hired, and he took us straight to the band” — a fortuitous move that provided the start to her legendary career in music.
Recalling, “Joey was so huge that Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and Greta Garbo came to see his show,” Spector tells the crowd that she’s always thought of Joey as both “wonderful and kind.”
The audience stands as Dee and Spector take the stage with two surprise guest performers — a pair of musical brothers consisting of The Starliters’ David Brigati and The Rascals’ Eddie Brigati — who join them on Dee’s 1961 hit, “Peppermint Twist.”
After announcing, “Are you ready to rock and roll?” Joey, Eddie, David, and Ronnie sing, and as the guitar wails, they all do the “1–2–3 kick; 1–2–3 jump!” sequence in the song before inviting the audience to sing along with them.
Following enormous cheers and applause, Connie Francis is announced as the evening’s next Lifetime Achievement inductee. Following a video highlighting Francis’ career, Music Maker award-winning vocalist Teresa McClean honors Connie with an emotional rendition of “Where the Boys Are.” The audience rises as Francis takes the stage in her beautiful sequined gown.
After Eddie and David Brigati present her with her award, Francis says, “Thank you. I love you. A million thanks to Joe Mirrione, Billy Greico, and all of the members of the East Coast Music Hall of Fame.”
The members of the crowd react by cheering and applauding on their feet.
Lou Costello, from the Doo Wop Diner internet radio program, takes the stage to present Philly musician Charlie Gracie with a Lifetime Achievement award. Thanks to such Gracie hits as his 1957 chart-topper, “Butterfly,” Costello makes Gracie “a part of history” as Charlie Gracie Jr. accepts the award on his father’s behalf.
Announcing, “This is quite a night for vocal cords!” Dennis Tufano salutes Lifetime Achievement recipient Bobby Rydell with his energetic performance of Rydell’s 1960 hit, “Volare.”
Introducing Rydell, Tufano says, “He was an Italian-American hero who connected with teenagers and parents,” as members of the audience stand and scream “Bobby!”
Rydell happily accepts his award from Tufano revealing, “Wildwood has been a part of my life. My grandma had a boarding house here.”
Rydell grabs a mic and performs his 1963 hit, “Wildwood Days,” his powerful voice sounding as strong as ever. Audience members throughout the auditorium sing along with Bobby before standing in honor of this time-honored performer.
Calling this “a memorable night,” vocalist Tony Testa of The Duprees is given a Legend Award before The Duprees perform their 1962 hit, “You Belong to Me.” Crooning, “See the pyramids along the Nile,” the music swells behind the smooth vocals of this talented quartet. The audience happily sings along on the last “You belong to me” lyric before giving a standing ovation to this fabulous group.
After The Tokens’ Kurt “Frenchy” Yahjian presents a Legends award to musician Johnny Gale — a guitarist who has worked with the likes of Dion, Kenny Vance, and Ringo Starr — Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Charlie Thomas presents a Legends award to singer/songwriter Fred Parris whose group, The Five Satins, recorded Parris’ original composition, “In the Still of the Night.”
Parris, 83, accepts his award declaring, “I love this show! I sang for a million years and I got another million to go!”
The vocal group, Quiet Storm, performs “In the Still of the Night” in Parris’ honor. With four-part harmonies ringing out clear and strong, the group brings the audience back to the good old days of yesteryear as they cheer for the beautiful sounds of this classic tune.
Concert promotor Al Simone presents a Legends award to The Brooklyn Bridge and Jimmy Merchant, a founding member of The Teenagers, presents a Legends award to The Chantels.
Original Chantels Lois Harris and Renée White accept their award announcing, “We are at home. This is where we are supposed to be. Thank you, East Coast Music Hall of Fame.”
Another highlight of tonight’s festivities includes Legends award recipients Russell Tompkins, Jr. and the New Stylistics’ performance of their 1973 Top 20 hit “Rockin’ Roll Baby.”
The Stylistics sing, dance, and snap in sync together behind Tompkins, Jr.’s signature falsetto voice.
The trio follows up with The Stylistics’ 1974 smash, “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” where Tompkins, Jr. deftly croons the high part as string and wind instruments sing along creating a magic carpet of sound for his vocal to float over.
Ending by exclaiming, “Thank you for letting us be a part of your life,” the audience stands and cheers for this feel-good music from the ‘70s.
The next Legends award is given to Billy Dawn Smith, a songwriter who composed for such artists as Nat King Cole, The Crests, The Platters, and Aretha Franklin.
Tito Puente, Jr. accepts the Latin Music Legend Award for his father, Tito Puente, before launching into a sizzling concert version of “Oye Como Va.”
Horns wail as colored lights illuminate the band and Puente Jr. plays drums and sings along with a group of back-up vocalists which includes Vinny Medugno, Dennis Tufano, and Teresa McClean.
Following a standing ovation, Dan Dannemann — the original lead singer of The Cyrkle — presents a Lifetime Achievement Award to The Skyliners’ Jimmy Beaumont. A poignant moment ensues when Beaumont’s wife, Ann Carol, tearfully accepts on her husband’s behalf remarking, “I never realized how many fans he had!” bringing the sympathetic crowd to its feet.
Guitarist Johnny Gale joins The Skyliners for a lovely rendition of the group’s 1958 classic, “Since I Don’t Have You” — a performance which has audience members nostalgically singing along before leaping to their feet.
In honor of Lifetime Achievement Award winner Frankie Avalon, America’s Got Talent’s Sal “The Voice” Valentinetti sings “Venus” before Bobby Brooks Wilson — son of the great Jackie Wilson — knocks one out of the park with his tribute to Lifetime Achievement recipient Chubby Checker in the form of a live version of Checker’s 1960 smash, “The Twist.”
Audience members can be seen twisting at their seats as Wilson’s talent explodes on stage.
The Angels’ Peggy Santiglia — a vocalist and songwriter who appeared on several of Lou Christie’s hit recordings — presents Christie with his Lifetime Achievement Award. Upon accepting his trophy, Christie proclaims, “We are the generation that started rock and roll,” before thanking the crowd declaring, “The clouds of rock roll on!”
A video tribute to the founding member of The Jive Five, Eugene Pitt, follows, after which Kenny Vance — via video message — honors Pitt with his rendition of “My True Story,” bringing the audience back with its indelible “Cry, cry, cry” lyric.
East Coast Music Hall of Fame producer Joseph Mirrione takes the mic to present a Lifetime Achievement award to concert promoter Richard Nader.
After recalling that Nader presented his Rock & Roll Revival concerts at Madison Square Garden where he “sold out 20,000 seats 21 times over ten years,” Nader’s wife, Deborah, accepts the award on her husband’s behalf, acknowledging that Richard was music’s “biggest fan” who would always “give credit to the musicians.”
Emcee Emil Stucchio follows up by presenting a musical tribute to East Coast artists’ involvement in the civil rights movement, promoting unity and harmony. Along with his group, The Classics, Stucchio performs Elvis Presley’s “If I Can Dream,” the background singers crying out the harmonies behind Stucchio’s sturdy lead.
The audience rises as Tony Orlando takes the stage to present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Jay Siegel.
Stating, “We are witnessing the Founding Fathers of rock and roll music,” Orlando acknowledges, “Everybody on this stage — I wanted to be them!”
After Orlando recalls how Siegel discovered him at the age of 16 and asked him to sing on songs like “Candida” and “Knock Three Times,” Siegel humbly accepts his award.
Siegel is joined by the members of his group, The Tokens — Kurt “Frenchy” Yahjian, and Bill Reid — to sing the group’s classic 1961 #1 hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
Never sounding better, Siegel has fun as he perfectly executes all the high notes.
The audience happily sings along before standing and cheering for this incredible performer and his timeless music.
ECMHOF producers Tommy Petillo and Bill Grieco follow up by taking the stage and thanking everyone for their contributions to tonight’s gala.
Then, Les Cauchi — an original member of both The Del Satins and The Brooklyn Bridge — presents a Lifetime Achievement Award to the late Johnny Maestro, lead singer of both The Brooklyn Bridge and The Crests. Accepting on Maestro’s behalf are his three children, Tracy, Lisa, and Brad.
Another highlight of the show takes place when the members of The Brooklyn Bridge are reunited with their group’s former lead singer for a poignant rendition of the band’s 1969 hit, “Worst That Could Happen.”
Performing live harmonies to an on-screen video featuring Maestro’s pre-recorded lead vocal, this ECMHOF rendition of the Jimmy Webb classic is as authentic as can be from its top-notch vocals to the Mendelssohn’s Wedding March brass fanfare which graces the coda of this powerful song. The audience stands and cheers for a riveting performance.
The Brooklyn Bridge follows up by inviting The Crests’ current lead singer, Tommy Mara, to handle the vocals on another Maestro song, The Crests’ “Gee (But I’d Give the World).”
Larry Chance, of Larry Chance and the Earls, is the final Lifetime Achievement Award recipient of the evening. After acknowledging, “I’m so humbled to be among these people I’ve been admiring — I wish my original guys could be here, too,” Chance affirms, “This one is for you.”
Here, he performs “I Believe” — a touching tribute to those who have left us — before thanking everyone at the ECMHOF, in addition to the members of the audience, saying, “God bless you all.”
As audience members make their way out of the Wildwoods Convention Center auditorium, we chat with several music lovers who share their opinions with us about tonight’s First Annual ECMHOF Awards Gala presentation.
Exclaims Diane from Manalapan, “It was just phenomenal!” Confessing, “I’ve been waiting all my life to see the last ten minutes of this show,” Diane acknowledges, “I’ve always wanted to see Larry Chance.”
Revealing, “I actually grew up with Johnny Maestro in downtown Manhattan in 1956 before he was famous,” Diane concedes that her love for this type of music has contributed to her seeing “concerts all over the state” before declaring, “and this one was just fabulous! ”
Wanda from Lewes DE agrees stating, “I loved it. I hope it’s an annual event. I just love this kind of music.”
Her friend, Alicia from Lewes DE, discloses, “I didn’t remember the names of all the groups who performed, but I knew every one of their songs,” before asserting, “It was a terrific night.”
Recalls Gail from Bensalem PA, “I grew up with this music, so I was singing along all night. These songs bring back so many memories,” before exclaiming, “I am amazed at how many of the performers still have the pipes!”
Larry from Allentown reveals, “I grew up in the 1960s, but I really don’t remember that music because I had three older sisters who all listened to ’50s doo-wop music,” noting, “With doo-wop music, you have harmonies that are just fantastic so — to me — that music was just amazing.”
Continuing, “It blew me away tonight getting to hear Johnny Maestro perform again with the live harmony singers from The Brooklyn Bridge,” Larry acknowledges, “It was so great, I got goosebumps.”
Lastly, we chat with Mary Jane from Staten Island, NY who declares, “I loved this show! We came especially to see Vito Picone and to honor Johnny Maestro.” Commenting, “It was a beautiful and touching night,” Mary Jane concludes by adding, “It’s so nice that all of these amazing artists were given the recognition they so deserve.”
Following the conclusion of the event, we also chat with several individuals involved with this evening’s festivities.
First, we chat with Lifetime Achievement honoree Vito Picone who says about receiving his award, “It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized by my peers. After 61 years of performing, I also want to thank all the listeners for getting us this far.”
Explaining, “I always say, ‘I have no fans — I only have friends,’” Picone humbly adds, “I just want to thank all my friends for this honor.”
Next, we chat with Dennis Tufano, lead vocalist on such classic Buckinghams’ recordings as “Kind of a Drag,” who remarks, “The room tonight was filled with so much energy from the vocalists. The energy backstage was so intense, I was in awe of everyone — and the fact that I got to sing a Bobby Rydell song for him was pretty cool.”
“Everyone there was just amazing,” continues Tufano. “Tony Orlando was very complimentary — he said, ‘You did Bobby good!” — and I learned some stuff tonight, too,” before noting, “For me, it was a very visceral event.”
Lastly, we chat with the producer of tonight’s performance, ECMHOF president Tommy Petillo.
Comments Petillo, “I’m very pleased with the turnout and the incredible talent we had here on stage tonight — we want to keep the memory of this music alive for future generations.”
Explaining, “There’s never been a permanent home for doo-wop music, and we believe it’s something that belongs here in Wildwood,” Petillo reveals, “We’re in the process of getting a building to house the East Coast Music Hall of Fame — a place where people will be able to come and learn more about this great form of American music.”
With regards to tonight’s Gala, Petillo remarks, “It was a good idea and the people proved that. Who knows what it will become in 10 years?”
Suggesting, “The oldies never left, they just went underground,” Petillo points out, “We are the largest generation — we changed politics and the course of this country with our music,” before concluding, “2500 fans in Wildwood on an off-season Wednesday night? That only proves one thing — that the people are keeping the music alive!”
For more on The East Coast Music Hall of Fame, please go to eastcoastmusichalloffame.org. For information on upcoming concerts at Wildwoods Convention Center — including Beatlemania Again Live on August 17, 2019 and The Fabulous ’50s and Beyond Celebration on October 18 and 19, 2019 — please go to wildwoodsnj.com/convention-center.