Frank Torpey Jr., 68, doo-wop singer and auto mechanic

Posted: June 28, 2013

FRANK TORPEY JR. had a busy life, as a carpenter and auto mechanic, not to mention husband and father of four - but his first love was music.

More specifically, singing.

Frank was a tenor who sang with local doo-wop groups, some that cut a few records that got local airplay, and were featured on Jerry Blavat's former TV show and with Georgie Woods on Channel 17.

He was also a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War and was rated 100 percent disabled due to a back injury and exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. He died Saturday at the age of 68 from complications of kidney failure.

It was in the mid-'60s that Frank linked up with Jack Strong, Lou Tavani and Frank DiSantis to form a singing group in Upper Darby.

While a lot of a cappella singing groups started on street corners, Frank liked to relate that he and his pals practiced their harmonizing in places like the men's room of the old Chez Vous ballroom, where Blavat held his weekly hops.

"We were record collectors who loved to sing," Torpey told Robert Bosco, writer and music historian, for an article in Echoes of the Past magazine. "We made monthly trips to New York City to buy our favorite records. On these road trips we would sing in Jack Strong's '59 Nash Rambler."

They sang songs by others, but also some of their own. Among them "The Clock," which became a hit on the Java label in 1966.

"Backed by four musicians, practically heresy for an a cappella band, the jump tune had that catchy stomp dance beat so popular in those times," Bosco said, "and caught on in the Delaware Valley like wildfire."

Although the song never got national airplay, Torpey and his friends plugged away with "Surprise" and "I Like it Like That" and other releases over the years.

The singers used various names for their groups, such as the Contenders, the Lytations, 5 Scripts and the Zeppers.

Frank Torpey was born in Ardmore to Frank and Mary Torpey. He graduated from Monsignor Bonner High School and went on to the Williamson Free Trade School outside Media, where he studied carpentry. He later attended the former Spring Garden College, where he studied metal technology.

He served in the Navy as a member of the Seabees (Construction Battalion) as a truck mechanic. The Seabees built roads, bridges, landing fields and schools in Vietnam. He attained the rank of third class petty officer.

Frank worked as a carpenter for a time, then ran an auto repair garage on Rock Hill Road in Belmont Hills and later a shop in Manayunk.

His stepdaughter, Jody Northrop, said he never stopped singing, and recently had a gig in Atlantic City.

Frank also is survived by his wife of 38 years, Joanne Northrop; a son, Frank Torpey III; a daughter, Tina Torpey; three brothers, Michael, Robert and Vincent Torpey; and five grandchildren. He was predeceased by another brother, David.

Services: Funeral Mass 11 a.m. today at St. Denis Church, Eagle Road and St. Denis Lane, Havertown. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in the St. Denis Cemetery.

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