Magnolia man a Sinatra superfan

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Frank LaMorte of Magnolia holds an autographed copy of a rare 45 of the Frank Sinatra hits “Strangers In The Night” and “My Way” in his upstairs area devoted to the career of the legendary entertainer. Mr. LaMorte will show off his vast Sinatra collection before Saturday night’s Sean Reilly’s “Sinatra 101” concert at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

MAGNOLIA — Frank LaMorte says he’s been a fan of Frank Sinatra since “God knows when.”

So it’s no wonder that he’ll be at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts on Saturday night as Wilmington’s Sean Reilly presents his “Sinatra 101” concert.

On the 100th anniversary of the Chairman of the Board’s birth, there is no place Mr. LaMorte would rather be.

But along with being in the audience while Mr. Reilly croons the classics, Mr. LaMorte will be part of a pre-show celebration as he’ll be showing off his vast collection of Sinatra records and memorabilia from throughout the legendary entertainer’s memorable career.

Commemorative plates, movie posters, books, photos, CDs — you name it, he’s got it.

And records, he’s got them too. Boy, has he got ’em.

Mr. LaMorte counts about 50 Sinatra 78 RPM recordings out of his collection of 2,800 big band 78s and more than 100 LPs and singles from Mr. Sinatra alone in all forms and conditions.

“It would probably take me two years to sort out all of the records that I have of not only Frank but big band stuff too from Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, all of those guys,” said the 73-year-old Magnolia resident.

He’ll play selections from some of those recordings upstairs starting an hour before the 7 p.m. show at the Dover theater.

He also has five Victrolas on which he can play the 78s.

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Mr. LaMorte cranks up one of his five Victrolas that play his colllection of over 2,800 78 RPM big band records.

“But I can never play them too long. The heavy weight of the needle head wears out the records,” he said.

His love of all things Sinatra started as a kid growing up in Newark, New Jersey, about 120 miles from Mr. Sinatra’s same-state birthplace of Hoboken.

Mr. LaMorte’s uncle was a big Sinatra fan and it’s his collection of 78s that Mr. LaMorte now owns.

“When I was young, I used to beg him for them. He kept them at my grandmother’s house. One day he told me to go up to the third floor and bring them down. I was so excited. I figured this was finally my chance,” he recalled last week.

“I knew right where they were and I carried them down carefully. When I got them down, he turned to one of his older brothers and said ‘Here are those records you wanted.’ My heart fell through the floor.”

But it was only a temporary disappointment.

“A couple of weeks later, my other uncle asked me to give him a hand with some stuff in his truck. I went in the back and there were the records. Turns out he only wanted to make some copies of them and he gave the box to me. So I’ve had them ever since.”

His collection also includes an autographed combination single of “My Way” and “Strangers in the Night” that he bought on eBay.

“It came from Belgium and cost me 35 bucks. It says ‘Best Wishes, Frank Sinatra,’” said the retired electrical designer proudly.

He counts “My Way” as his favorite Sinatra tune.

“It was the way he lived his life and the way I’ve lived my life,” he said.

He saw Mr. Sinatra, who died in 1988 at the age of 82, twice in concert.

“The first time was at the Newark Armory when I was 18 years old. I figured out where his car was going to be after the show and waited for him to come out. He looked at me and I waved to him,” Mr. LaMorte said.

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Frank LaMorte of Magnolia owns hundreds of Sinatra record albums, plates, books and photos. Saturday is the 100th anniversary of the legendary entertainer’s birth.

The second time was late in Mr. Sinatra’s career when his vocal abilities and memory for lyrics had faded.

“My wife and I saw him at The Meadowlands in New Jersey and he forgot the words to ‘Strangers in the Night.’ That’s my wife’s favorite song. She could have killed him,” he said.

So why the fascination with Ol’ Blue Eyes?

“It was his whole ambiance. The way he carried himself, the way he sang. The way he hung in there,” Mr. LaMorte said.

“After his downfall in the ’50s, he hooked up with Ava Gardner who was totally in love with him. He read the book ‘From Here to Eternity’ and said I gotta have that part and they wouldn’t give to him when they made the movie.

“Ava Gardner got him that part and he went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year and it revived his whole career.

“He was a controversial figure in my family. But I always liked the guy. He was pretty great in my eyes.”

Schwartz show

Saturday night’s show at the Schwartz Center on what would have been Mr. Sinatra’s 100th birthday, features Mr. Reilly and his six-piece Sinatra Centennial Orchestra under the direction of well-known Delaware pianist David Zipse.

“We do more than just sing and perform the recordings Sinatra made famous, I tell the tales behind the tunes — why were they made, what occurred during the recording sessions, how the song came to be a Sinatra standard, etc. Then we perform that tune,” Mr. Reilly said.

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Sean Reilly presents his popular “Sinatra 101” concert Saturday at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover.

“You know a song is just a song until it gets into Sinatra’s orbit, then it becomes a story. The audience loves the show as it gives them a renewed appreciation for these recordings.”

Mr. Reilly’s singing career took off in 2009 when he won the Frank Sinatra Idol Contest in Hoboken.

“At the end of the competition, after I was declared the winner and awarded the ‘Chairman Of The Board’ Trophy. All of us Sinatra contestants gathered closely and sang ‘New York, New York,’ and to my wonderment as I looked over my right shoulder, The Empire State Building lights came popping on one after another. Wow. That was chill bump stuff for me,” he said.

Mr. Reilly has been performing ever since, solo and as a duo with Mr. Zipse, and occasionally as a trio or quartet, but now they’ve taken the occasion of Mr. Sinatra’s 100th birthday and graduated to a larger band.

“These songs call for horns. Sinatra always had a big band, and some of the best arrangers ever,” Mr. Zipse said.

“We tried putting together a full big band, with five trumpets, four trombones, five saxes and a rhythm section, and it sounded great. Unfortunately, it was not financially viable these days.

“So we found some great charts for three horns — trumpet, trombone and sax — plus a rhythm section that really capture the essence of the original recordings. Authenticity is important to Sean, for he feels the audience knows these songs, exactly the way Frank did them. So with great charts and some of the best musicians around, this band is hot.”

Mr. Reilly and Mr. Zipse premiered their show at the Milton Theater in July to a sold-out house, and a repeat performance on Labor Day weekend also sold out.

They also packed Wilmington’s Baby Grand in October for two shows.

Tickets for Saturday’s concert are $27 to $30 and can be purchased by calling the box office at (302) 678-5152, visiting www.schwartzcenter.com or stopping by theater at 226 S. State St., Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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