February 12, 2009

Bob Gaudio Day in Bergenfield!

February 12th, 2009

Bob Gaudio and Family
Bob Gaudio with son-in-law Jimmy Kasanjian, daughter Danielle Gaudio-Lalehzar, wife Judy, daughter Lisa Gaudio, and granddaughter Brianna Gaudio (Photo by Joe Camporeale)

Allison Schiff of Twin-Boro News has a terrific feature on Bob Gaudio! On Tuesday, February 3, it was officially named “Bob Gaudio Day” in Bergenfield in a proclamation by the borough mayor and council. On this day, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Grammy winner received an honorary Bergenfield High School diploma — an event more than 50 years in the making.

That proclamation, read by Councilman Rob Gillman, also declared Gaudio as Bergenfield’s 2009 Man of the Year.

The graduation ceremony, which even included printed commencement programs, honored Gaudio and his long and productive musical career that began while he was still a teen-ager.

In 1958, as a Bergenfield High School student, he co-wrote “Short Shorts,” which became a Number One hit record for the Royal Teens.

The song was inspired, naturally enough, by a drive down Washington Avenue with fellow band member Tom Austin.

Austin recalled that they saw several good-looking girls walking along the street wearing the now-immortalized shorts. Being teen-age boys, Austin said, they, of course, slowed down to take a look.

Gaudio would go on to fame with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons; he’d pen a string of meg-hits, such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You; and produce music for the likes of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow.

He would also find the time to launch the Broadway smash “Jersey Boys” based on the life and times of the Four Seasons.

But, in 1958 he was only a 15-year-old kid who had tasted the success of “Short Shorts” and knew in his gut that music would be his life.

Concerned parents

Now he only had to convince his parents that it would be a good idea for him to leave school so that he and the Royal Teens could go on tour with the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.

Though it was an easy decision for Gaudio, he knew it would be a hard sell to his parents.

But an ally came to his aid from a very surprising corner during a meeting with Bob, his parents and Paul Hoffmeister, then-principal of Bergenfield High School.

“My parents were very concerned,” said Gaudio, “and this meeting was my last resort to try and convince my dad, in particular, to let me go.”

“But I didn’t expect what happened,” he said. “I thought the principal would side with my parents, but he didn’t; and he shaped my future.”

“It was very astute of him,” said Gaudio, “and I think he was very tuned in to what kids were thinking and how they’re feeling at that stage in their lives.”

“I don’t know if he gave that type of advice to other people,” he said, “but it just made sense to him and was definitely the right decision for me, though I’m sure a major part of it was that I already had a hit record — I wasn’t just going to quit school and twiddle my thumbs and throw darts.”

“There was only one thing going on in my mind at the time,” he said, “and I don’t think I could have comprehended doing anything else.”

“I had one aspiration, and it took all my focus.”

It was this drive and intensity that brought Bergenfield’s own “Jersey Boy” long-lasting and continuing success and, according to Kuchar, is what makes Gaudio an inspiration for the students of Bergenfield High School and all young people who have the desire to make their dreams into reality.

“Bob Gaudio represents all that is magical in the State of New Jersey,” said Kuchar. “Few other states in the nation are home to such diversity of nationalities and religion. Yet all Garden State residents are united by the foundation of a strong family, working hard to provide a better life for the children of the future.”

“This remains the mission of the Bergenfield school district,” Kuchar said, “and it is personified by the life of Bob Gaudio.”

“We are uplifted by our school, culture, family heritage and state spirit,” he said, “and this same sentiment is captured in the biography and music of our honoree, Bob Gaudio.”

Non-traditional ceremony

Though not a traditional commencement ceremony, Bergenfield High School pulled out all the stops for Gaudio’s graduation, which was presided over by Emmy Award-winning journalist Pia Lindstrom, whose husband, attorney Jack Carley, is a Bergenfield alumnus, Class of 1958, the year Gaudio would have graduated had he remained in school.

Carley advised the students in the audience not to be afraid to “dream big.”

“It’s been more than 50 years since we sat where you are sitting,” said Carley, “but we all share something in common: We all have dreams of what our lives will become.”

“From Bob,” he said, “we learn than dreams can come true if you pursue them. Life is funny like that.”

“We live in a country where almost anything is possible,” he said. “And I think that this is the lesson we can learn from Bob’s life.”

The ceremony included a sonorous rendition of the national anthem, sung by former Bergenfield Fire Chief Gerry Naylis, a 1973 Bergenfield High School graduate; an instrumental medley of Four Seasons hits by the Bergenfield High School ensemble, which received a standing ovation from Gaudio; a video presentation recounting the highlights of Gaudio’s career; and a taped message from Frankie Valli in Las Vegas.

“You’ve climbed another mountain in life,” said Valli. “All we have to do now is think about college.”

Gaudio was also presented with life membership in the Tri-M National Music Honor Society by Bergenfield Police Chief Rick McGarrill, who has volunteered as a coach of the BHS marching band for 26 years.

Afterward, a letter from Gov. Jon Corzine was read in which the governor claimed to have all the Four Seasons’ music on his iPod.

New Jersey State Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, who was in a band himself in high school, were on hand to read from a resolution passed in the Senate and the Assembly in Gaudio’s honor.

BHS ‘Jersey Boys’

And, in a tribute to the famous Four Seasons’ sound, four Bergenfield students — billed as the next generation of “Jersey Boys” — took to the stage wearing bright red band jackets for a rendition of “Sherry,” delivered in a convincing falsetto with accompanying harmony and dance moves, all to wild cheers and clapping from their fellow students.

Former Royal Teen and current real estate appraiser Tom Austin, co-writer of “Short Shorts,” said he remembers Gaudio’s incredible intensity and the fact that he never took off his beloved Bergenfield football jacket.

“He was always so focused, it was amazing,” said Austin, who managed to defer his army service so as to able to tour with the Royal Teens by giving a sergeant several autographed photos of the group for the man’s teen-age daughters.

“Bob was relentless in his quest to be better and better,” said, Austin, “and he always wanted to improve.”

“He used to say, ‘If you can’t be with people who are better than yourself, then you might as well stay at home.’ ”

Gaudio may have left school but, as Austin pointed out, that does mean he didn’t receive an education.

“If you think about it, Bob was self-educated,” he said. “He knew mathematics because he spent the whole day dealing in musical notes and half-notes; he didn’t just read about places in geography textbooks, he went there; we had to excel in business law so we could make sure our manager wasn’t taking too much money.”

“After the Royal Teens, we all went into our different walks of life,” said Austin, “but Bob’s fame has rubbed off on all of us.”

“I feel very fortunate to have shared the first leg of Bob’s musical journey.”

For Gaudio, being back in Bergenfield was a surreal and emotional experience.

Déjà vu

“That was a real déjà vu walking through the hallways of a school again,” he said. “Just seeing lockers – I mean, I haven’t seen one in 20 years!”

“Seeing some of the guys and girls I went to school with really brought back memories,” said Gaudio who said he was touched and impressed by the scale of the festivities arranged by Kuchar.

Those are faces I haven’t seen in more than 40 years,” he said.

“I remember sweating it out on the football field in the middle of August,” said Gaudio. “And I’ll always remember what the coach told me on the first day of practice. He probably said it to everyone, but he told me, ‘Kid, if you can get through the first week of practice, then you can get through anything in your life.’ And he was right.”

Though Gaudio’s chart-busting songs have sold more than 175 million records worldwide and the fact that he fearlessly struck out at the age of 15 to pursue his destiny, Gaudio admits to one major fear.

“For many years after leaving school, I had nightmares about having to take final exams.” he said.

“So the fact I can go back and get my diploma and relax, and not have to go through the cold sweats, is really wonderful,” he said with a laugh.

After a few words from Bergenfield High School Principal Hank Sinatra and Dr. Aaron Graham, executive Bergen County superintendent of schools, Gaudio mounted the steps of the stage.

In a slight departure from the graduation ceremonial practice, Gaudio’s daughters, Lisa and Danielle, and his granddaughter, Briana, presented him with his honorary diploma.

“Whoever thought we would have the privilege of awarding you with your high school diploma,” said Danielle. “Congratulations, Dad. You worked hard, and now you can add high school to your resume.”

Gaudio accepted the framed diploma with a hug, as his wife, Judy, watched from the audience.

“This is the best stage outfit I’ve ever worn,” he said in reference to his graduation robe. “It’s good to be in New Jersey and particularly, it’s good to be in Bergenfield.”

“For everyone here who’s over 35, thank you for being here,” Gaudio said humbly, “and for everyone under 35, I know you probably had to be here.”

Though judging by the line of students waiting for his autograph after the ceremony, it seems as if fans will still love him tomorrow.


  1. What a great article. As a former home-schooling parent, I applaud Superintendent Kuchar and his colleagues for publicly highlighting that true education happens in and OUT of the classroom. Mr. Austin was so right in pointing out all the many skills acquired on the road to success.

    Interesting to now have a positive twist on the fateful date of February 3 – exactly 50 years after the ‘day the music died.’

    When I went to Bergenfield to do research for the Four Seasons Old Neighborhood bus tour, many people I spoke to, like a school crossing guard, remembered Bob. I’ve been inside the school where Bob stood when interviewed by Randall Pinkston for CBS Sunday morning (http://www.gilgweb.com/CBSSMwmv.html).

    After we go by Bob’s teenage home, our tour drives down Washington Ave and – although we haven’t seen any girls in short-shorts- that street and the school are big photo-ops. (maybe I’ll add into the next tour on March 22 – that football field where Bob sweated it out before school began :)

    Although it’s obvious to anyone watching over the years that Bob’s success is, in part, due to his utter and complete focus from the beginning, I learned another secret of his success – “if you can’t be with people who are better than yourself, then you might as well stay at home.” How many times I’ve heard other success people express similar sentiments!

    It sounds like quite an evening for the proud residents of Bergenfield and the Gaudio family. Wish Principal Paul Hoffmeister (and I) could have been there.

    Comment by Audrey — February 13, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

  2. I wonder if Harvard had any inkling that Bill Gates would be successful compared to the potential Paul Hoffmeister recognized in Bob Gaudio. I guess when you are that focused and driven, the path is clear. It’s probably not the best course of action for many students, but it was for Bill Gates and Bob Gaudio.

    Comment by Ted Hammond — February 13, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

  3. Great article!!! Now that Bob has officially graduated, he and I may be the only Bergenfield High School graduates living in Nashville.

    Comment by John Basso — March 30, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

  4. Very inspirational homecoming! Many families will feel the spiritual bond between child and parent.
    Love that music!!!! Joni

    Comment by joni Relyea — April 16, 2010 @ 9:49 pm

  5. I have always loved the Four Season’s and the song Short Shorts! Thanks for sharing this wonderful article and background to the wonderful and successful talents of Bob Gaudio. Just a quick question, “Does anyone happen to know if Audrey Gaudio or Bob Gudio is related in anyway to Lucille R. Gaudio or Geaorge Gaudio who were born around sometime in the 1920′s? I know that Lucille and George had one daughter, Audrey and in the 50′s they lived in the state of Illinois. A BIG Thank you to anyone who could possibly shed any light to this.

    Comment by Peggy Ross Blake — July 17, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

  6. Peggy, the switchboard related sites and ancestry related sites probably have more information on what you are trying to find. I know for a fact that there is another (apparently not closely related) Bob Gaudio in my home state of Michigan, whose name frequently pops up when I do searches for FV4S research information.

    Comment by Ted Hammond — July 17, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

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