december 2011

Dion (far left) and the Belmonts (Angelo D'Aleo center front; Carlo Mastrangelo, center standing; Fred Milano, far right)

'The Most Morally Correct Man Who Ever Walked The Earth'

Fred Milano

August 26, 1939-January 1, 2012

The year 2012 wasn't even a day old when sad news arrived in the announcement of the passing of Fred Milano, second tenor of the Belmonts (his brothers in harmony were baritone Carlo Mastrangelo and first tenor Angelo D'Aleo) when the doo-wop group powered by lead singer Dion DiMucci brought street-corner R&B-influenced harmonies and the rhythmic pulse of rock 'n' roll to the group harmony sound. Dion and the Belmonts pointed the way to the '60s evolution of the doo-wop/rock ‘n’ roll hybrid in the music of the Beach Boys and especially in that of the Four Seasons.

Dion was one of the first to respond publicly to his former cohort's death. "With everyone who loves the roots of Rock 'n' Roll, I'm mourning the loss of Freddie Milano," Dion wrote on his Facebook page on Jan. 3 alongside an old photo of himself and Milano together.

"Fred played an important role in my younger life. He was a boyhood friend from the Bronx and one of the original members of Dion and the Belmonts. He was savvy with harmonies. We had our ups and downs through the years but that's how things go in families, even rock-and-roll families. I will always remain grateful for his contribution in 1958 & 59--may he rest in peace and rock on in heaven."

Dion and the Belmonts, ‘A Teenager in Love,’ written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, a #5 single in 1959.

milanoMilano was with the band, which took its name from Belmont Ave. in their Bronx neighborhood, from its infancy. The group signed to Laurie Records and went on a two-year roll, an impressive feat at a time when rock 'n' roll careers were measured more in months. Dion and the Belmonts, though, notched seven Top 40 singles between 1958 and 1960. With his clear, plaintive tenor Dion could be seductively dreamy or yearning on love ballads but he also could break into rousing, conflicted pleading of a high order, as he did on the group's career launching #12 single in 1958, "I Wonder Why," the quartet's lone uptempo hit with its propulsive rhythm, doo-wop underpinnings (announced right at the start with basso rhythmic nonsense syllables) and Dion’s clean attack coupled to the graceful, Sinatra-style phrasing. The song itself was a series of rhetorical questions posed by the singer, seemingly contemplating the wisdom of his affections for a certain girl, but fact serving as thinly disguised words of love. A similar diversionary tactic informed the group's #5 1959 classic, the immortal Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman teen anthem, "A Teenager In Love." Though its yearning, lovestruck narrator seems to be genuinely suffering, Dion's flight into his light upper register on the title sentiment betrayed a certain pleasure accompanying his pain, even to the point of suggesting by his outsized despair a sense that being miserable in love is better than not being in love at all. The group's biggest hit followed in January 1960, the #3 single "Where or When," another sumptuous bit of romantic longing, this based on a déjà vu experience ("some things that happen for the first time/seem to be happening again"), from the towering pop tandem of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, who wrote the tune originally for the 1937 Broadway show Babes in Arms. Following two more Top 40 hits in 1960 Dion left for a solo career but the Belmonts soldiered on, although never again reaching the chart heights they had experienced during DiMucci's tenure. The original lineup reunited in 1966 for an oldies show and again for a one-off live album in 1972.

Dion & the Belmonts, ‘I Wonder Why,’ the group’s first hit, #22, 1958

Milano and D'Aleo carried on in the group through various lineup changes during the following decades. Even in the weeks prior to his death Milano was still performing with the Belmonts at casinos and other venues.

Milano also worked as a legal coordinator at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City, where he taught a legal research class and assisted inmates with researching their cases. Karen Powell, director of the law libraries, said that Milano had lots of energy and you knew when he was in the building "because we'd hear him singing and skipping up the stairs."

Dion & the Belmonts, ‘Where or When.’ The followup to ‘A Teenager in Love’ went to #3 in 1960 and was the group’s highest charting single. The song was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the 1937 Broadway musical, Babes in Arms.

"On January 1, 2012 we lost a great man," a statement on the Belmonts' website said. "Freddie was the founder of our group and made rock n' roll (which is not easy to define) understandable. If you were lucky enough to have known him, the real nature of rock n' roll became clear and as in the songs he sang and the records he made. Freddie was married to Lynn for over 40 years, his love for her immediately evident to anyone in their presence. They had two children and ten grandchildren who brought him immeasurable joy. In later years Freddie's interests became more diverse and he graduated magna cum laude and became a highly regarded legal coordinator for the City of New York. Freddie was the best friend you could ever have had and, in the words of his daughter, the most morally correct man who ever walked the earth. It was a privilege to share the stage of life with him. We will always love and remember him and carry on his legacy."

Born in the Bronx on Aug. 26, 1939,Milano was one of three children of Betty and Rocco Milano. He is survived by his wife of 43 years, the former Lynn Heitzner; a daughter, Tara Lesak; a son, Cal; and 10 grandchildren.

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