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“A Sense of Community” The East Coast Music Hall of Fame’s Second Annual Awards Gala

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Melodies of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s fill the air this Tuesday, June 7, 2022 evening as artists and fans gather together to celebrate the East Coast Music Hall of Fame’s Second Annual Awards Gala at Harrah’s Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, NJ.

The East Coast Music Hall of Fame is an organization dedicated to the preservation of music from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. In 2018, the founders of the group had the idea of creating an Awards Gala to honor legendary and current music makers. The Gala was originally conceived and developed by ECMHOF president Tommy Petillo, vice president Bill Grieco, producer Joseph Mirrione, and musical director Mark Baron.

The organization’s First Annual Awards Gala was held on June 5, 2019 in Wildwood, NJ, and honored such performers as Bobby Rydell, Connie Francis, Joey Dee, and Lou Christie. Due to the pandemic, the Second Annual Awards Gala was postponed until tonight. This year, 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.

This evening’s Awards Gala ceremony will also feature live musical performances from a variety of artists including Gloria Gaynor, Tony Orlando, Jay and the Americans, Larry Chance, The Eternals, The Tymes, The Clovers, and more.

Before the ceremony begins, there is a Pre-Awards Gala VIP Reception outside Harrah’s Wildwood Ballroom where VIP guests can mingle with Gala award recipients, presenters, and other special guests. Stars attending the reception include all of the current members of Jay and the Americans, The Tokens’ Jay Seigel, and The Crystals’ LaLa Brooks, in addition to several up-and-coming performers including singer Chris Ruggiero.

At the reception, we chat with Ruggiero who tells us he’s excited to be here tonight, explaining, “This event is so special. It’s a coming together of family members in the business to honor those who came before us and those we’ve lost since the last Gala.” To that end, Ruggiero reveals, “During tonight’s ceremony, I’ll be singing a tribute to all of those we’ve lost, including a special tribute to Bobby Rydell.”

We also chat with singer/songwriter Toni Wine, known for singing on The Archies’ 1969 hit, “Sugar Sugar,” and for co-writing “A Groovy Kind of Love” with Carol Bayer Sager, a song which was recorded in 1965 by The Mindbenders and also became a #1 hit in 1988 for Phil Collins. Exclaims Wine, “I’m so happy to be here! Jay Siegel and I are going to do backup vocals for Tony Orlando, just for fun — it’s been so long since I’ve been able to do anything like that!”

In addition, we chat with LaLa Brooks, lead vocalist for The Crystals on hits like “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me.” Declares Brooks, “I’m here for fun tonight! I’m usually on the stage — I love working; the audiences give me such energy — but this is the first time in a long time that I’m just here for fun, and I’m especially looking forward to seeing Gloria Gaynor perform tonight.”

Lastly, we chat with several members of Jay and the Americans, including the group’s current lead singer, Jay Reincke, who tells us, “My bandmates are getting inducted into the Hall of Fame tonight and I’m so proud of these guys!” When asked how he’s enjoyed his experience at the Gala so far — including headlining a Welcome Reception concert last night here at Harrah’s — Reincke declares, “I’ve enjoyed every minute! I love seeing everybody here. It’s been so much fun, singing, hanging out with the guys, and taking it all in.”

Jay and the Americans’ founding member Sandy Deanne tells us he’s proud to be an ECMHOF Lifetime Achievement recipient, explaining, “This is special. We’ve been doing this for so long, and this recognition comes from our peers, which means more to us than anything.” When asked about last night’s Welcome Reception concert, Deane says, “I think it went really well,” joking, “People never come up to you afterwards and say, ‘You were terrible!’”

Another Jay and the Americans’ Lifetime Achievement recipient, Marty Sanders, who is sporting a navy blue double-breasted knit sweater with gold buttons, says “This award is really nice,” before disclosing, “This sweater I’m wearing is from the 1960s. I wore it on one of our record covers — Come A Little Bit Closer: The Best of Jay and the Americans.” In addition to his singing and guitar-playing skills, Sanders is also a songwriter, having co-written “Bad Reputation” with rocker Joan Jett and her producer Kenny Laguna who, at this very moment, happen to be entering the Wildwood Ballroom, getting ready for this evening’s main event.

As we prepare to enter the Ballroom ourselves, we chat with several fans who are here enjoying all of the 2022 ECMHOF activities. Says Bruce from Parsippany, “The Jay and the Americans concert last night was very enjoyable, and this VIP reception has been very exciting, too. It’s all been a lot of fun,” before adding, “So far, the biggest thrill for me was getting to meet Alan Paul of Manhattan Transfer. I’m a big fan of the group, and last night I got to meet him, along with getting a photo with Tito Puente’s son, Tito Puente, Jr.”

Dorie from Union, who is dressed up like a 1950’s ‘bobby-soxer’ in her red poodle skirt, saddle shoes, and white beaded bracelet, tells us, “We came to the 2019 Hall of Fame Gala in Wildwood and wanted to come again. My husband, Mike, and I live to party hearty, and we’re in love with this music — we’re always dancing to it,” before concluding, “At tonight’s Awards Gala, I’m really looking forward to hearing Jay and the Americans and Larry Chance, along with everyone else.”

Dorie’s husband, Mike, elegantly dressed in a black and white tuxedo, jokes, “I’m wearing a classic tux because we’re not savages!” before revealing, “The Eternals were my heroes. I always wanted to be a bass man. I love that low bass voice sound and I even model my own singing voice after The Eternals. That’s why I’m especially looking forward to hearing them perform tonight.”

Lastly, we chat with Faye from Allentown, PA, who shares her thoughts on her ECMHOF experience thus far, asserting, “I saw Jay and the Americans last night and it was the best show I’ve ever seen!” Continuing, “This music brings back so many memories. I love Dionne Warwick, Neil Sedaka, Tavares, and all of the honorees tonight,” Faye contends, “These performers and their songs have stood the test of time. It’s music for everyone, and I particularly enjoy hearing the younger performers interpret these classic songs. There are so many talented musicians both young and old who love this genre just like I do.”

We enter the Wildwood Ballroom where we catch up with the producer of tonight’s ceremony, Joe Mirrione, who shares with us his vision for the East Coast Music Hall of Fame, stating, “The East Coast Music Hall of Fame isn’t about a building. It’s about a sense of community. Tonight, we tip our hats to the pioneers of this music, giving awards to the Music Makers, Legends, and, of course, our Lifetime Achievement honorees. It’s wonderful to see the sense of community here — people like Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna, for example, who are here to support Jay and the Americans. It’s all about that sense of community — about coming together to reconnect with the people who helped others get their starts in the music business, and for those who did that, to come together and reconnect with the people they helped along the way.”

Inside the spacious Wildwood Ballroom, we see a number of celebrities — including 2019 ECMHOF award winner Vito Picone of The Elegants, and Al Contrera, a member of both The Mystics and The Classics — seated at tables in front of a stage set up with a large screen behind it. A crowd forms around Tony Orlando the moment he enters the room. Surrounded by admirers, Orlando graciously chats with all who approach him — putting his arms around them, smiling for photos, and trading stories with his fans who respond to his warmth and genuine friendly nature.

Once tonight’s audience has filled up the rows of seats surrounding the tables, the lights dim, and the stage lights shine as we hear a large orchestra conducted by musical director, Mark Baron, playing the strains of tonight’s opening medley. The medley, which pays tribute to several of tonight’s honorees, begins with “Tie A Yellow Ribbon,” a tribute to Tony Orlando performed by singer John Sarkis of The Skyliners.

The medley continues with Johnny Petillo, who performs Tony Orlando’s debut charting recording, “Halfway to Paradise.”

Singer Angelo Perrone honors Jay and the Americans with his interpretation of their 1969 hit, “Walking in the Rain.”

“Calendar Girl” is the next song in the medley and is performed by singer Tommy C. in tribute to Lifetime Honoree Neil Sedaka.

Lastly, Michelle Parto concludes the opening medley with her interpretation of Gloria Gaynor’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

The crowd cheers, and emcee Emil Stucchio takes the stage asking, “What about that talent we just heard?” After acknowledging, “I was getting chills at the soundcheck earlier!” Stucchio introduces Sammy Strain, a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer inducted both as a member of Little Anthony and the Imperials and as a member of The O’Jays.

Strain introduces The Tymes who accept their award at the podium before taking the stage to perform their 1963 #1 recording, “So Much In Love.” Starting out a cappella, the audience is treated to the smooth vocal sound of this talented trio before the orchestra joins in with a staccato accompaniment.

The crowd responds with cheers and The Tymes perform their 1974 disco hit, “You Little Trustmaker,” which has the audience clapping along as the trio dances with synchronized turns to the rockin’ band.

The audience stands and cheers, and Stucchio retakes the stage to induct an artist who has been “writing songs for over 64 years” — Neil Sedaka. Stucchio introduces Doreen and Joe Arminio, aka Stiletto and the Saxman, who perform an upbeat medley of two Sedaka hits — “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” and “Oh! Carole” — where Doreen dances as Joe sings before joining him in two-part harmony.

To continue the Sedaka tribute, Stucchio introduces 2019 award winner Larry Chance who sings Sedaka’s “The Hungry Years.”

Chance’s baritone voice is rich and resonant with just a touch of smokiness and is accompanied by a fully orchestrated arrangement which builds in dynamics and texture, inspiring the audience to stand and cheer for his heartfelt performance.

Jay Seigel takes the stage to induct Tony Orlando, calling him “the consummate entertainer” who will “help anyone in the business.” The audience stands and applauds for Orlando who says, “This night is the culmination of a childhood dream,” before telling the crowd, “This award is about what you do — we’re nothing without you guys!”

In talking about his first breakout hit, 1970’s “Candida,” Orlando introduces the song’s co-writer Toni Wine, acknowledging that it was Jay Siegel and Toni Wine who were the original background singers on the recording, as well as on Dawn’s #1 recording of “Knock Three Times.”

Music lovers dance at their seats to the bouncy beat of “Candida” before the vocal trio deftly segues into “Knock Three Times,” a performance which has the audience happily clapping along. At the conclusion, the trio takes a well-deserved bow to whistles and cheers.

Stucchio introduces The Skyliners who pay a musical tribute to Dionne Warwick with an inspired rendition of her hit, “I Say A Little Prayer For You,” featuring the sweet soprano voice of singer Donna Groom.

The Classics’ Teresa McClean continues the tribute with a powerful interpretation of Warwick’s “I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again” which swells and builds.

People stand and cheer for McClean’s impassioned performance.

Stucchio introduces Vito Picone of The Elegants who talks about his days on the road with Earl “Speedo” Carroll and the Cadillacs and explains how Carroll was one of the early pioneers of stage choreography. Picone welcomes Gary K. Lewis from the Cadillacs who reveals, “We did a lot of rehearsing to get our steps together!” before joking with Picone about his own name not being on the trophy.

Stucchio and his group, The Classics — featuring Teresa McClean and Al Contrera — perform The Cadillacs’ “The Girl I Love” as a tribute to Carroll. Lewis then joins the trio for The Cadillac’s 1955 hit, “Speedoo,” dancing around as Stucchio sports a top hat and cane in Carroll’s honor to cheers and applause.

Historian Charlie Horner takes to the podium to talk about four pioneering vocal groups: The Dominoes, The Ravens, The 5 Keys, and The Clovers. According to Horner, it was The Clovers who contributed to the great early success of Atlantic Records with hits such as “Skylark,” “Blue Velvet,” and “Love Potion No. 9.” Horner also introduces the crowd to Harold Wimley, an original member of The Clovers, a man he refers to as “a national treasure.”

The Clovers join Wimley in performing an a cappella version of their 1955 ballad, “Blue Velvet,” where four-part harmonies fill the air and Wimley’s low bass voice adds a distinctive richness to the sound.

The Clovers take the audience back to 1959 with their upbeat hit, “Love Potion No. 9.” Employing synchronized hand moves, the group moves to the sound of the rockin’ band and music lovers in the house move in their seats to the rhythm of this intoxicating song before giving Wimley and his colleagues a standing ovation.

Tony Orlando retakes the stage to introduce up-and-coming singers Michelle Parto and Anthony Wood who perform a soulful version of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”

Al Contera presents a Lifetime Achievement award to concert promotors Tony Delauro, Joe Contorno, and Frankie Lanz, who produced successful doo wop shows at Radio City Music Hall and other locations. After Contorno and Lanz accept their awards in person, Stucchio inducts beloved New York City radio DJ Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow who appears on the large screen behind the band to deliver his video acceptance speech.

Chris Ruggiero croons The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun” as images of late ECMHOF-associated artists — including The Five Satins’ Fred Parris, The Brooklyn Bridge’s Les Cauchi, The Crests’ Tommy Mara, and The Tokens’ Bill Reid — appear on the screen behind him. The audience is especially touched when singer Ronnie Spector is pictured and a recording of her voice singing the last line of “I’ll Follow the Sun” is played. The band swings as photos of Bobby Rydell appear on screen and Ruggiero engages in an upbeat rendition of Rydell’s “Volare” which has audience members tapping their toes, singing along, and ending with cheers and applause.

The Eternals, along with original member, Charlie Girona, perform 1959’s “Babalu’s Wedding Day.”

Their upbeat performance has people clapping along in time.

Stucchio introduces songwriter/producer Kenny Laguna who talks about the history of Jay and the Americans — noting, for example, how they opened for both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones — before inducting them into the East Coast Music Hall of Fame.

The crowd stands as three of the original members of Jay and the Americans take the podium.

In his acceptance speech, founding member Marty Sanders says, “This 45 rpm record adapter around our necks is a symbol of our generation. When we bought 45s and dropped the needle on our parents’ stereos, we were listening to the greatest music of all time,” before concluding, “We are custodians of this great music and we’ve got to keep it going forward.”

Jay and the Americans’ singer/songwriter/guitarist Sandy Deanne introduces Jason Blatt, the son of former group member Jay Black. Blatt and Sanders play guitars as Jay and the Americans perform a rocking version of their 1960 hit which appeared prominently in the Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, “Come A Little Bit Closer.”

Sanders plays the iconic guitar intro as the group launches into their hit, “This Magic Moment,” before Jay Reineke impresses with his vocal prowess on “Cara Mia.” Audience members stand and cheer before Stucchio introduces a congratulatory video from legendary songwriter Mike Stoller.

Entertainer Bobby Wilson — the son of singer Jackie Wilson — pays tribute to both Tavares and Gary U.S. Bonds.

Wilson’s high-octane performance of Bonds’ “Quarter to Three” has music lovers moving in their seats, heads bopping and toes tapping, to flashing lights.

East Coast Music Hall of Fame President Bill Grieco thanks the audience for their support while also recognizing the quality work of musical director Mark Baron and the members of his orchestra.

Producer Joe Mirrione presents a Lifetime Achievement Award to the talented vocal group, Manhattan Transfer.

Singer Alan Paul accepts the award on behalf of the group. Acknowledging, “We stand on the shoulders of so many heroes,” Paul reveals that the idea for starting the quartet came from his late partner, Tim Hauser, declaring, “Tim was from Asbury Park and I’m from Newark, so we’re real Jersey guys!” before holding the award up to the sky, smiling, and asking, “How about that, Tim?”

2019 Music Maker award-winners, Classic Sounds, perform a tribute to Manhattan Transfer with “Operator” — a number filled with intricate vocal harmonies — and a swinging version of “The Boy from New York City,” which features lead vocalist Julie Seda.

Stucchio introduces singer/songwriter Norman Bergen who talks about his work with Gloria Gaynor.

After Gaynor takes the podium to say, “I am pleased and honored to accept this gorgeous award,” she takes her place in the spotlight center stage to sing the slow intro to her iconic 1978 smash, “I Will Survive.” Soon, the orchestra kicks in, the tempo quickens, and the arrangement soars with Gaynor’s powerful voice leading the way.

Gaynor invites everyone to stand up and sing with her and the room becomes a moving sea of positive energy. Cheers follow as Gaynor thanks the elated crowd and Stucchio closes the show saying, “Let’s do this again soon!”

As audience members make their way out of Harrah’s Wildwood Ballroom, we take a moment to chat with several music lovers in the house who share their opinions about tonight’s Second Annual ECMHOF Awards Gala presentation.

Says Sharon from Edgewater, “This show was really good, and they really kept things moving. I especially loved Gloria Gaynor — she was so great!” Sandy from Brooklyn agrees, adding, “I loved Gloria Gaynor!” before acknowledging, “I enjoy listening to this kind of music every day.”

Whereas Nona from New York City calls tonight’s program “Fabulous,” exclaiming, “Gloria Gaynor just blew me away!” she further notes, “I also loved it when Jay Siegel and Toni Wine sang with Tony Orlando — that was beautiful,” adding, “And Tony Orlando is such a warm person.”

Linda from Florida tells us, “I traveled from Florida to see this concert and I enjoyed the whole show very much! I especially loved Tony Orlando. He was very touching — I was touched by his words — it made me feel emotional,” before concluding, “and Jackie Wilson’s son, Bobby Wilson, was great, too. His mannerisms are just like his dad’s!”

Gilberto, a musician from Maryland, declares, “This show was fabulous! The band was great, and the harmonies were really great — these performers are such professionals.” Continuing, “I especially liked The Tymes — I love their song, ‘So Much in Love,’” Gilberto maintains, “I also liked the variety of award presentations. It was nice to see that all of these people are friends — it’s like a walking company of friends where all of them support one another.”

Lastly, we chat with Cathy and Sam, a couple from Glassboro. Cathy considers tonight’s Gala “Wonderful entertainment!” asserting, “I love Tony Orlando — he’s the best!” She also contends that “Jay and the Americans were great, too,” explaining, “I really loved it when they sang, ‘Cara Mia.’” Her husband, Sam, agrees, concluding,” This whole show was great! I can’t wait until they do it all again next year!”

For more on The East Coast Music Hall of Fame, please go



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