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More than five decades later, current Duprees lineup still captivating audiences

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The Duprees

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VENUE: Broadway Palm Dinner Theater, Fort Myers FL

PERFORMANCE DATE: Feb. 10, 2014

Nearly 52 years after The Duprees delivered a smooth, smash-hit rendition of "You Belong To Me", the modern-day lineup of the popular doo-wop group continues to captivate audiences.

Indeed, Tommy Petillo, Tony Testa, Jimmy Spinelli and Phil Granito do a fine job in carrying the torch for a New Jersey contingent that was founded in the early '60s at William J. Dickinson High School in Jersey City.

Some oldies music purists continue to debate whether the current touring group has a legal or ethical right to the Duprees' name, but regardless of such viewpoints, the emphasis should be placed on the fact that today's lineup keeps such great songs as "My Own True Love" and "Have You Heard" alive.

Testa, the leader and performance emcee of the current group, owns the exclusive license to the Duprees, but during each performance, he acknowledges the original members and, in essence, praises them for the opportunity to continue the legacy of their great music.

The Duprees pleased and entertained a capacity crowd with harmony and showmanship, from the opening number -- a stirring rendition of The Pointer Sisters' hit "I'm So Excited" -- through the closing number ("You Belong To Me"), which was followed by a standing ovation.

Other well-received numbers included powerful lead vocals by Petillo on such tunes as "It Isn't Fair" (a 1950 hit for Don Cornell) and "It's No Sin" (a huge 1951 hit for both Eddy Howard and The Four Aces).

Testa's audience interaction also appealed to the crowd on his version of "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu" and when he strolled through the dinner theater, talking to fans while singing a peppy interpretation of "Just A Gigolo." In the same time frame, he invited a lady from the audience on-stage to "swing and sway" while the group delivered a touching rendition of "Love Eyes" (which was the flip side of the original recording of "Have You Heard").

Other crowd-pleasers included:

  • A medley of songs representing four great musical decades: "Up A Lazy River" (popularized by The Mills Brothers in the '30s), "Dream" (The Pied Pipers in the '40s), "Sh-Boom" (The Chords and The Crew Cuts in the '50s), and "My Own True Love" (a vocal adaptation of "Tara's Theme" from the classic film "Gone With The Wind" by The Duprees in the '60s).
  • A dynamic, crowd-pleasing medley of three 1959 hits by the late Jackie Wilson -- "That Is Why", "I'll Be Satisfied" and "Lonely Teardrops" -- with Granito on lead.
  • A pair of pulsating renditions of Bobby Darin hits -- "Mack The Knife" (1959) and "Beyond The Sea" (1960) -- with Spinelli handling the lead vocals.

Another standing ovation followed a tribute to U.S. military veterans with Petillo's vocals effectively leading the singing of "The Exodus Song", and without a doubt, the crowd was enthralled by the energy, showmanship and talent of The Duprees, along with backup instrumentation provided by drummer James Cardarelli, keyboarder Donya Lane and musical director Mark Baron.

A brief history of The Duprees

The original contingent was formed from members of three Jersey City groups, and the initial lineup consisted of lead singer Joey Vann (a k a Joey Canzano), Mike Arnone, Tom Bialoglow, John Salvato and Joe Santollo.

The group caught the attention of Coed Records executive George Paxton, who signed them to his label, which also featured such artists as The Crests, The Rivieras and Adam Wade. Paxton's big-band background provided a big boost to The Duprees, who provided masterful doo-wop harmony to such earlier hits as "You Belong To Me" (No. 1 for Jo Stafford in 1952), "Why Don't You Believe Me" (No. 1 for Joni James in 1952) and "Have You Heard" (No. 4 for Joni James in 1953).

From 1962 to 1965, The Duprees charted eight entries on the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts, effectively blending doo-wop vocals with Paxton's big-band arrangements.

Mike Kelly was lead singer on the group's original demos, which were forwarded to Paxton, but Vann fronted most of The Duprees' big hits before Kelly returned in 1964, remaining with the group until 1977, when he was replaced by Petillo.

The so-called British Invasion, which began early in 1964, diminished The Duprees' impact, along with that of many American recording artists, although The Duprees continued to release records on such labels as Columbia, Colossus, Heritage and RCA into the '70s.

Death claimed Santollo in 1981, Vann in 1984, Arnone in 2005 and Kelly in 2012.

Song videos by The Duprees (click on the title to view)

For a link to upcoming Duprees tour dates (and the group's Web site), click here.

[You may subscribe to Bill Herald's oldies music columns -- free of charge -- by clicking on "subscribe" near the top of the column, after which you will receive e-mail notification each time a new item is published].

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