Long after "the Five" burned down in 1973 and the stars moved on, Mr. Cicalese could be found on any given night at any given saloon piano at the Shore, breezing through the Great American Songbook, light rock, blues, even a Chopin polonaise.
More than a keyboard artist, "he also was one of the better singers in the business," said Carl Matani, secretary/treasurer of the Atlantic City Musicians Association and bass player in many incarnations of Bobby Chic trios starting in the mid-'70s. "If not a casino, then a lounge or a club - Bobby always had a place to go."
Growing up in the Bella Vista section of South Philly, Mr. Cicalese spent his spare time playing scales at mother Angelina's insistence while watching his friends playing ball outside. He hated scales and he hated the piano, even as he took classical training at a conservatory.
After graduating from Southeast Catholic High School in 1954, he nearly put his hands to another use. Having developed into a formidable third baseman despite his mother's best efforts, he was drafted for a St. Louis Cardinals farm team.
Mr. Cicalese went with doo-wop.
In the mid-1950s, he and four other Philly boys formed Bobby Chic and the Chiclets, and ran headlong into copyright problems. So were born the Honeycones, who recorded "Rockin' in My Knees," "Gee Whiz," and their only charting song, "Op," which came in at No. 69 on Aug. 4, 1958, and hung in for two weeks.
In 1958 and '59, they appeared three times on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. They made the rounds of The Grady and Hurst Show, Summertime at the Pier, and The Walter Winchell Show before disbanding.
In a trio with bass and drums or flying solo, Mr. Cicalese played gigs nationwide, and, though not a headliner, he collected a following, said son Robert Jr. Nowhere was it so avid as in Atlantic City and environs, where he lived and worked for most of the last four decades. It would be easier to list the nightspots where Bobby Chic hadn't performed than where he had.
Among the latter in Atlantic City alone: Le Bistro (around the corner from the 500 Club), Grabels, the long-gone My Way Lounge and Lombardi's, Caesar's, the Sands, and Harrah's for 12 years.
Most recently, he was holding court at Tomatoes restaurant in Margate and Ruth's Chris Steak House in Atlantic City. No one expected the music to stop, his son said, but the swift and severe onset of dementia two years ago was the coda to his career.
A scratch golfer, a doting grandfather, Mr. Cicalese retired to Boca Raton, Fla., where he died.
"But he had one heck of a life," his son said. "What a ride."
Surviving besides his son are wife Linda Hughes; another son, Gary, and a grandson. He was predeceased by his former wife, Phyllis Spadaro Cicalese, in 1972.
A memorial service will be held later, with the installation of a bench in his honor on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Contact Kathleen Tinney at 610-313-8106.