November 22, 2009

Connie Francis Weekend–Friday, October 23 – Sunday October 25, 2009

November 22nd, 2009

By David Cace

If one were to have asked me the following question before Sunday October 25, 2009:
When is a request not really a request?

My answer would have been:
An “offer you can’t refuse” from Marlon Brando.

In reply, one might ask:
What about a “Royal Command Performance”?

Depends on who the “Royalty” is would be my retort.
Is it “Jersey Royalty”?

After speaking with two superstar Jersey recording artists on October 25, 2009, my definitive Jersey answer would be:

A “Royal Command Performance” for a charity event from the First Lady of Hoboken, Mrs. “Dolly” Sinatra, mother of Frank Sinatra.

Let me set the stage, so to speak – On a Friday evening, November 5, 1966, I had the pleasure of attending a most extraordinary concert performance. On the same bill were the top female recording artist in the country, Connie Francis, and the top male vocal group in the country, The Four Seasons, performing together for over 4,000 people at the Stanley Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey for the benefit of St. Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City.

I had the pleasure of speaking to both Connie Francis and Tommy DeVito of The Four Seasons on Sunday evening, October 25, 2009, at the Gala Celebration in honor of Connie Francis, the concluding event to the Connie Francis Weekend, presented by the Belleville Education Foundation. Connie Francis is a graduate of Belleville High School, and as we know from Jersey Boys – “This whole thing (the Four Seasons) started with…Tommy DeVito, Belleville New Jersey – Native Son…Belleville Man of the Year 2002.”

During the cocktail hour, the elegant Connie Francis made it her “mission” to visit with as many of the 300 plus guests attending the Gala as she could. When she came to me, I took the opportunity to ask Ms. Francis if she remembered what she was doing 43 years ago almost to the day? She smiled at me indulgently at which point I pulled out of one of my suit jacket pockets the program from that concert event. Without hesitation Ms. Francis replied: “I remember it well; I received a call from Dolly Sinatra asking me to perform for the children of St. Joseph’s School for the Blind. It was my pleasure.”

Knowing that there were hundreds of people wanting to chat with Ms. Francis, I immediately pulled out a pen from my other suit jacket pocket and asked her to autograph the program for me, which she graciously did.

A few moments later, I spotted Tommy DeVito chatting with guests and signing autographs. Standing next to Tommy was his beautiful daughter Darcel DeVito Collins. Tommy, along with major league umpire, and fellow Belleville native, Phil Cuzzi, were Co-Chairs for the Connie Francis Weekend. With the 1966 program in hand I approached Tommy who noticed the program and immediately said: “I remember that show. Dolly Sinatra asked us to perform along with Connie. We had already committed to perform at another charity event earlier that day in Bloomfield (yes Bloomfield, not Fairfield) and there was some doubt whether we could do both events. I explained to people that there was no option here – you didn’t say no to Dolly Sinatra – we got to the show late, but we got there, and performed. One of the nuns gave us a nice plaque for performing. The Governor was there, the Mayor of Jersey City was there…all the local politicians were there. I think I introduced them when we were up on stage. Oh yeah, I think somebody had a baby during our part of the show.”

Most people can’t remember what they had for lunch yesterday and here are two superstar entertainers remembering a concert they did 43 years ago. And being a CPA who loves to have supporting evidential matter for any statements made, I can attest to their statements for included in the same box in my basement where I found the St. Joseph’s School for the Blind concert program from 1966, I also found a local newspaper article reporting on the events of the concert and was able to corroborate their recollections. In this regard, The Jersey Journal had this to say about the concert:

“The Four Seasons also appeared at another benefit in Bloomfield and their late arrival held the show’s start until 9:30.”

“Gov. Richard Hughes and Democratic leader John V. Kenny headed the list of dignitaries attending the three-hour show.”

“Sister Rose Imelda, director of the school, expressed her gratitude to the principal supporters by presenting six plagues, between the acts, to Mrs. Martin (‘Dolly’) Sinatra, Frank Sinatra’s mother; Connie Francis, The Four Seasons…”

And in a little snippet off to the side of the article:

She Misses Show

Almost everyone stayed to enjoy the show last night at the Stanley Theater – except Mrs. ______ who had a more important engagement. She was assisted from her balcony seat by Jersey City Patrolmen…to Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital, just as the Four Seasons were finishing their act at the Stanley… She gave birth to a girl at 11:08 p.m.

And what did The Jersey Journal have to say about the show itself:

“Gala Benefit Nets St. Joseph’s $30,000 (that’s $200,000 in today’s dollars)

“One of the nation’s largest theaters could hardly accept the crowd, which milled around outside up to two hours before the show in the near-freezing chill, hoping for a glimpse of the stars.”

“The Four Seasons were all any of their ardent fans could ask and more, with 11 examples of their unique sound…Of the group Frankie Valli is first tenor; Bob Gaudio, second tenor, organist and composer of most of the group’s songs; Joe Long, bass singer and bass guitar and Tommy DeVito, first baritone and lead guitar…They sang three of their seven million-selling records. “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Dawn” plus their very-recent “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” which probably has sold a million already…Valli’s falsetto is pure and clean…the group is great together, their rhythm infectious and the total effect very pleasing…The most surprising part of the act were the Seasons’ fine comic bits, poking fun at themselves most of all.”

“One cannot reproduce in type the shudder in Connie Francis’ voice when she sings “Mama,” it puts chills up and down the spine…Her velvet voice came across superbly in person, with a breathless ‘thank you very much’ after each of her songs.”

Let’s now move forward 43 years to the Connie Francis Weekend. On Friday, October 23rd, the Belleville High School auditorium was renamed “Connie Francis Theatre at Belleville High School.” Ms. Francis was then inducted onto the Belleville High School Wall of Recognition where she joins Tommy DeVito and other Belleville luminaries of the arts and sciences. On Saturday, October 24th, Greylock Parkway and Forest Street in Belleville was renamed “Connie Francis Court.” This street naming and dedication was followed by a reception for Ms. Francis at Belleville Public Library. And then on Sunday, October 25th, the weekend concluded with the grand Gala Celebration at the magnificent Nanina’s in the Park in Belleville.

The Master of Ceremonies for the Gala Celebration was legendary 50s and 60s DJ Clay Cole. Belleville’s own Peggy (Farina) Santiglia, co-writer of “Beggin’” and the Delicates were there and re-united with Clay Cole, who had them on his shows so often. Congratulatory greetings came from Joe Pesci, Frankie Valli, Dick Clark, and “Cousin” Bruce Morrow who sent a special video greeting for Connie. When Clay Cole asked Tommy DeVito to step us to the dais to say a few words, Tommy was greeted with a standing ovation.

Entertainment was provided by North Bergen New Jersey’s Bobby D’Andrea, the lead singer of the Knockouts, who reprised their 1960 hit song “Darling Loraine,” with his new partner Frankie Cirell (now performing together as Andre & Cirell) and comic Pat Cooper. Mr. Cooper had the attendees in uproarious and continuous laughter with his rapid fire jokes. Mr. Cooper tells one joke, you laugh so hard you cry, and then before you can catch your breath, he tells another one, and then you can’t remember half of the jokes he told because they were delivered so quickly and you were laughing so hard.

Clay Cole then closed the evening’s festivities by introducing Connie Francis. She was given an immediate, thunderous and long standing ovation. Connie Francis’ anecdotes about her life in Belleville growing-up were both funny and touching. She is truly a gracious lady who has never forgotten her roots.

Two unforgettable nights, just 43 years apart.
Author’s Notes:

  1. St. Joseph’s School for the Blind continues its fine work to this day. St. Joseph’s School for the Blind was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in 1891. St. Joseph’s School for the Blind provides both a traditional and an enriched extra-curricular program to an academic population of students who are blind. St. Joseph’s School for the Blind has expanded its services through its Concordia Learning Center to include students who are not only blind or partially sighted but also have additional disabilities and are in need of more comprehensive services. Concordia Learning Center’s students range in age from birth to 21. Each student follows an individually-designed educational plan. Some students stay at Concordia House, while others return on a daily basis to their own homes. The school draws students from throughout the surrounding region and the State of New Jersey. The Concordia Learning Center at St. Joseph’s School for the Blind is the only school of its kind in the State of New Jersey. Please visit their web site at
  2. The Stanley Theatre opened in 1928 and closed as a movie theater in 1978. Its original capacity was 4,332. The Stanley Theatre was the 10th largest theatre is the country, with Radio City Music Hall, built in 1932, being the largest with an original capacity of 5,940. Most of the other theatres in the top ten have been demolished. The Stanley Theatre’s architect was Fred Wesley Wentworth and its original wall paintings were by William Andrew (Willy) Pogany, although his original paintings of Greek Mythology have been replaced by Biblical murals. The Stanley Theatre was purchased in 1983 by the Jehovah’s Witnesses for $18 million and has been completely restored and is now used as their assembly hall. Tours are available. Tour guides are instructed not to proselytize but are permitted to answer questions regarding their faith.
  3. Clay Cole has written a book, Sh-Boom! – The Explosion of Rock ‘N’ Roll (1953-1968). It is available at
  4. Visit the Belleville Education Foundation at
  5. The Delicates were formed in Belleville, New Jersey in 1958, when three classmates of Belleville Elementary School #8, Denise Ferri, Arleen Lanzotti and Peggy Santiglia joined their respective talents to form the trio. The Delicates became regulars on the Muarry the K radio show and wrote and recorded the Submarine Race Watcher’s Theme which opened and closed his show. The Delicates also appeared on many of the television shows devoted to pop music of the day: Alan Freed’s Big Beat, the Clay Cole Show, Rate the Record, and American Bandstand to name a few. On stage they were featured performers in Murray the K’s holiday shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theater and the Clay Cole shows at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater and at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. Visit their web site at
  6. The Jersey Journal continues to publish to this day as “Hudson County’s Daily Newspaper.” Its web site is


  1. Wow, what a delightful trip back (and forth) in time. Whether it was 1966 or 2009, the trip was both enjoyable and informative. And talk about ‘supporting evidential material’; that’s why you’re the accountant, David!

    I enjoyed your coverage from start to finish. Thanks for sharing it with us all.

    Comment by Audrey — November 22, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

  2. Great story David…I truly enjoyed reading! ;)

    Comment by NewJerseyLasagna — November 23, 2009 @ 10:06 am

  3. David,

    What a great experience. Thanks for sharing it.

    I’m an accountant too, but to have stuff from 43 years ago and then to be able to find it is pretty incredible.

    Comment by Linda/Tiggerbelle — November 23, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

  4. What a great story, David, and beautifully told.Really enjoyed reading it. I loved that Tommy remembered the woman who left to give birth, and that you had the newspaper article corroborating this!

    Comment by Pamela — November 23, 2009 @ 5:00 pm

  5. David,

    I believe you also pulled out of your basement the program from William Paterson College in 1970 when the Four Seasons performed there. We both attended that concert, but did not know this until our paths crossed via “Jersey Boys” 35 years later!

    Comment by Beverley Micciche — November 23, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  6. Thanks so much Dave for the article. I saw Connie Francis perform a couple of years ago at The Castro Theater in san Francisco. The audience just went nuts. What an entertainer!! I love her.

    Comment by Linda — November 24, 2009 @ 1:05 am

  7. David, Boy! What a Benefit- you were a very busy guy, but it was well worth it. Connie Francis is a very sweet Lady and gave alot of songs through the years, me and my dad’s favorites: Mama, Who’s sorry now,Where the boys are,lipstick on your collar,& “Follow the Boys”.
    Yes! Thank-you for sharing this wonderful event.

    Tommy & Darcel,I love this shot(father and daughters are so very special) you are glowing, That is beautiful
    Love & Blessings,

    Comment by Patti-Massi-Candeliere — November 24, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

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