Big Band Singer 'Jimmy Saunders'

Posted: January 22, 1990

Vincent LaSpada, who recorded and sang with the big bands of the '40s as ''Jimmy Saunders," died Saturday. He was 73 and lived in South Philadelphia.

Jimmy Saunders, also known as Sonny Saunders and for a time as Marco Polo, sang with the bands of Harry James, Eddie Duchin, Ray Bloch, Sonny Kendis and Charlie Spivak. He co-wrote "Peach Tree Street" with Frank Sinatra and recorded such hits as "There Must Be a Way," "Santa Lucia," "You Belomg to My Heart," "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons" and "You Are Too Beautiful." He also was a featured vocalist on the "Lucky Strike Hit Parade" show.

The son of Philip Laspada, who ran a bakery at 9th and Cross streets, Jimmy was one of the first of a long line of pop singers to come out of the rich musical turf of South Philadelphia. He started singing on the street corner with the guys and quickly made a name for himself once he started entering amateur contests on stages of the Alhambra, the Earle and the Broadway theaters.

He won a contract with radio station WIP and starred on one of the few live shows originating in Philadelphia at the time. In 1942 he joined the Harry James orchestra, and it was James who changed his stage name from "Sonny" to ''Jimmy" Saunders.

Joe Valino, another South Philadelphia-born singer with a list of credits that included, "Learning the Blues," "Garden of Eden" and the title song for the John Wayne film "Legend of the Lost," first met Jimmy in 1950. Valino was playing the Rendezvous at 8th and Walnut streets. Typically, Jimmy came over to the young talent and said, "Hey Joe, you're great!"

When Jimmy started to introduce himself, Valino said, "I know who you are." Valino said, "I was thrilled . . . He had a captivating style. I would walk in, thinking I'm hot stuff. He'd walk in, and everybody would say, 'That's a classy guy, savoire faire.' That style made people look up to him."

By the early 1950s, the big bands were in rapid decline. Even an idol of Sinatra's stature found his career in the doldrums, to be revived mostly by his role of Maggio in the 1953 film, "From Here to Eternity."

But for Jimmy and a lot of other lead vocalists of the 1930s and 1940s, the big dates weren't happening any more. A new, little disc called a "45" was sweeping over the musical culture. Some kids came out of nowhere to get a contract and become stars with a record that suddenly got big air play. Later the public would learn that major market deejays grew especially fond of certain records that were accompanied by pictures of dead presidents. And ''payola" entered the national vocabulary.

Lucy Gonzales, one of Jimmy's sisters, said her brother "couldn't listen to rock. He hated it. He believed they ruined the business. All the good singers were starving, and good musicians weren't playing."

By 1951, his five-year marriage to model Rita Daigle had broken up. She was Miss Rheingold 1946 and had been on the cover of Life magazine several times.

Valino begged him to come out to the West Coast. Valino, who was working in Hollywood most of the year, said a lot of people in California liked Saunders' sound and could have done him some good. But, as Valino recalled, "he wouldn't budge. He got his feet stuck in the sun and sand of Miami. To him, between Florida and South Philly, that was paradise, utopia."

Through the years Jimmy played a lot of clubs and occasionally, into the early 1980s, would play a big band festival. His last band was Mickey Coppola's, which broke up about six years ago when the leader died. Jimmy withdrew after that, though Valino would come by almost every day or call and prod him out of the house.

As recently as 10 years ago he was still writing and cutting demo records but had little success at getting local play. His sister said the town where he had launched his career forgot who he was, "especially the radio stations that didn't really help him in any way."

Not everyone forgot. A couple of friends from the old New York days, comedian Pat Cooper and singer Tony Bennett, would usually call when either of them were in town and insist that Jimmy meet them for dinner. "It would thrill him," Gonzales said.

And the people in the old neighborhood still regarded him with the affection and respect that was routinely heaped on the young, handsome crooner of forty years ago. Especially Joe Valino.

"He was, to me, too beautiful," said Valino. "I think if he'd a gone after it, he coulda' taken it. He coulda' gone with Frank. Hey Frank, do this. I think Frank would have done it. I don't think Jimmy was that kind. Proud. Maybe too proud. Maybe he kind of decided it wasn't worth the bother to try to go for the rainbow. He just loved what he was doing."

His sister said, "We were proud of him. He was our boy. He couldn't do anything wrong."

In addition to his sister, Lucy Gonzales, he is survived by two daughters, Linda and Diane; five other sisters, Mae Valenti, Grace Tumini, Helen D'Imperio, Carmela Gioia and Victoria Battaglia; and a brother, Anthony.

Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Roman Catholic Church, 9th and Watkins streets. Burial will be in Holy Cross Cemetery, Baily Road and Wycombe Avenue, Yeadon, Delaware County.

Friends may call between 7 and 9:30 tomorrow night at the Vincent Gangemi Funeral Home, Broad and Wolf streets.

JOSEPH MCFADDEN

Services were to be held this morning for Joseph P. McFadden, a retired employee of WCAU radio and TV, who died Friday. He was 63 and lived in King of Prussia.

McFadden had worked in the financial department of WCAU for 25 years. When he retired in 1985 he was manager of credit and collections. He had previously worked for WIP radio and Wyeth Laboratories.

A graduate of St. Thomas More High School and St. Joseph's University, where he was on the track team, McFadden still did long distance running until about a year ago.

A strong advocate of civil rights, both in this country and in Ireland, where his parents were born, he was a frequent contributor to inner-city Catholic churches and schools. McFadden once purchased a block of tickets for the Nutcracker ballet at the Academy of Music and distributed them to poor youngsters in Camden because he felt it might be their only chance to attend the Academy.

McFadden was an amateur historian, studying this country and Ireland. He enjoyed visiting historic places and last July visited Ireland. During a tour with the Army he had served in Florida and Italy.

Survivors include two brothers, Eugene and James; a sister, Sister Mary McFadden, S.N.D.; and a number of nieces and nephews.

Mass of Christian Burial was to be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. today at Mother of Divine Providence Roman Catholic Church, Allendale Road, King of Prussia, Montgomery County. Burial will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham Avenue above Easton Road, Cheltenham Township.

FRANK MONZO

Frank Monzo Sr., a retired paint store owner and former vaudeville dancer, died Friday. He was 83 and lived in South Philadelphia.

Monzo worked the vaudeville circuit as a soft-shoe dancer from 1924 to 1936, while also working as a painting contractor. He performed under the stage name of "Frankie Nixon."

During World War II, Monzo served as a gunner with the 15th Air Force from 1942 to 1945. He was involved in air combat in the Balkans, southern France, Tunisia, Egypt and Normandy. He won the Bronze Star. He was discharged with the rank of staff sergeant.

In 1945, he opened Monzo's paints at 19th and Hoffman streets. He retired in 1988.

Survivors include his wife of 45 years, the former Angelina Pileggi; a son, Frank Monzo Jr.; two grandchildren; a brother, Samuel Monzo; and three sisters, Louise Wak, Anna Diliberto and Rita DePaul.

Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church, 17th and Morris streets. Burial will be in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Sproul and Crum Creek roads, Marple Township, Delaware County.

Friends may call between 7 and 9:30 tonight at the Massi Funeral Home,

2135-37 S. 17th St.

EILEEN DUNLAP

Eileen M. Dunlap, a retired secretary for the Civil Service Commission in Philadelphia, died Friday. She was 74 and lived in Drexel Hill, Delaware County.

The former Eileen McSorley, Dunlap worked as medical secretary to the regional medical officer of the Civil Service Commission for more than 30 years before retiring in 1971. She was a 1934 graduate of West Catholic High School for Girls.

Dunlap was a member of St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church in Drexel Hill for 37 years. For many years she was a member of the Drexel Hill Women's Club and served as recording secretary.

She is survived by her husband of 44 years, Harold "Art" Dunlap.

Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Charles Borromeo Church, Burmont Road and Dennison Avenue, Drexel Hill, Delaware County. Burial will be in Arlington Cemetery, Lansdowne Avenue and School Lane, Drexel Hill.

Friends may call between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Frank C. Videon Funeral Home, Sproul and Lawrence roads, Broomall.

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