For anyone who was alive, and able to remember the 1940’s war times (and the joy that music brought to the hearts of Americans at home and those abroad fighting for our freedom), Wednesday nights Community Concert with Franc D’Ambrosio rekindled that spirit.
The evening, billed as “A Bronx Boys Musical Perspective of World War II”, opened with a piano Overture leading into Franc’s exuberant rendition of "Captain of the Clouds".
The audience is quickly welcomed into the D’Ambrosio family life with the memory vision of Franc’s Aunt Ida and Uncle Joey. He leads us through life as an immigrant family living in the Bronx in a multi-story apartment building – with large families sharing small spaces and feeling a freedom they had not had before. The family gathered around the one small radio as they listened eagerly to news and the happy songs and stories of the “Lucky Strike Radio Hour”.
Mr. D’Ambrosio filled the theater with rich golden sounds of times gone-by: That Old Black Magic, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Long Ago and Far Away. We visited, in our memory, the USO’s where many romances began to the words of Speak Softly Love and the piano solo of La Vin En Rose.
When the work force at home began to dwindle in size, as the men were drafted to protect our country, the women stepped up to the task and Rosie the Riveter became one popular lady! Mixed into each day, for every family, was the uncertainty of which family member would be “called up” next and then the anxiety of when and if they would come home. This gave new meaning to songs such as “Danny Boy”, a short ballad from much earlier times, lamenting the leaving home of a son.
Entering into the second half of the evening with a piano solo by accompanist Michael Tilley, which flowed directly into vocal accompaniment of Franc... he invited the audience to join him in America the Beautiful. We were quickly moved to the songs that so poignantly roused memories of those who lived in those times and years. Songs of farewell: Anchors Away, Caissons Go Rolling Along, On the Banks of the Wabash, and laments of memories of home filled the air. We were reminded again of How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, yearning for a Kiss Me Goodnight, and Ma, I Miss Your Apple Pie.
No one singer had a more profound effect on those days, or a more lasting memory, than Bing Crosby (to this day, this reviewers all time favorite singer and actor) who not only sang about the war times but spent many hours with the troops in personal appearances. Remembering Bing’s crooning, Franc D’Ambrosio certainly filled his shoes and thrilled us with many of Bing’s unforgettable tunes; Accentuate the Positive, You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby, Pennies From Heaven, and White Christmas.
Bringing the audience back into his family home and life in the Bronx, “Uncle Joey” arrived home from the war and reinforced the family belief of That’s America For Me and again ask that God Bless America. So many other stories and songs were shared than there is room to write about here.