It is with great sadness and heartbreak that I announce that Dick Contino, world-famous accordionist, entertainer, and my best friend, passed away last night. Dick was born January 17, 1930 in Fresno, California and died there on April 19, 2017 after a long illness. He was my friend for many years.
Because of Dick, back in the 50’s, every teenager wanted to play the accordion. In 1949, when I was seven years old, I heard Dick on the radio. I told my mom that I wanted to be an accordion player just like Dick Contino. It was because of him that I entered the music world and became a professional. Ironically, I became Dick’s musical director, arranger, keyboardist, confident, sometimes manager and personal comic. I could make him laugh hysterically by just saying good morning.
Dick will be forever be known as one of the most loving people on the planet; not only to his family but to everyone he ever encountered. He treated everyone equal, from the restroom attendant to his superstar peers. He was very respectful of everyone, no matter where or what they came from.
Dick suffered from extreme phobias and demons his entire life. His major quest in his life was not to be the greatest accordion player or superstar entertainer, but to figure out the human mind and relationships between people. He was tormented by the whole mystifying thing he called “the human mindset.” He was never without his index cards in his shirt pocket on which he would write down his thoughts. He was a student of Joel Goldsmith and his philosophy called “The Infinite Way.” He hardly ever read newspapers but constantly read books and listened to tapes by Goldsmith. It consumed his life.
Dick was very intelligent and could discuss different religious philosophies with priests, rabbis, lamas, and religious scholars. He would talk to me on these deep subjects and I would pretend to listen intently. After a while I would get bored with the whole thing and do things to break him up. I would pour a cup of coffee on the floor or fall down. He would laugh so hard. I think he finally figured out that I was not the brightest bulb in the lamp.
I don’t ever recall Dick buying anything for himself, but he was the first to reach for his wallet when it came to buying dinner or drinks. He was a very generous man.
Accordion players and teachers around the world owe a great deal of gratitude to Dick Contino. He kept a lot of them working and made a few of them rich. There would be no accordion industry if it were not for Dick. He did for accordions what Elvis did for guitars. He was responsible for selling millions of accordions in the 50s and 60s.
Pete Barbutti, the famous comic, said of Dick; “A lot of entertainers make fun of him but none of them want to follow him on stage.” He was an amazing showman and a wonderfully gifted musician of the highest order. His fan club members followed him all through his 70 year career. They absolutely adored him. I consider my many years with Dick the honor of a lifetime.
There will never be another Dick Contino!
From Corky Bennett
Remembering "The Accordion Legend"
Dick Contino (1930 - 2017)
Dick Contino is remembered today for his performances as a world class accordionist, Las Vegas entertainer and Hollywood movie star. For several years beginning in 1948, Contino was a super-star attraction as both a musician and entertainer. He had a recording contract with RCA Victor (now RCA Records), had an instrument named after him, and was earning $4,000 a week. Needless to say, he could write his own ticket - all as an accordionist. Dick's career spanned nearly 70 years and is recognized more than any other accordionist in perpetuating the popularity of the accordion in the US.
For the past 50 years, our family has had the privilege of knowing the legend, Dick Contino. Our reflection is one of great pride and honor having had the opportunity to know this incredible man so well for so many years. His genuine personality was even more special than his talents. Dick was much more than just a polarizing entertainer; he was a humble man of strength, conviction and great passion and integrity. Behind the confident demeanor was a gentleman that constantly questioned his purpose and because of that, he never let the attention and fame obscure what was truly important to him: his family and loved ones.
He created a class of his own not only as an entertainer, but as a man… and class he had. There will never be another Dick Contino. Your character and friendship will forever be cherished. You will be missed dearly.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Contino family - we are always here for you.
-The Petosa Family
From Petosa Accordions
It was with great sadness that I received a phone call from a close family friend yesterday regarding the passing of a great friend and accordion legend, Dick Contino. Our hearts go out to Dick’s family and loved ones, including his wife Judy, his daughters Mary and Deidra and his son Peter.
Dick Contino was a pioneer long before the Backstreet Boys, Michael Jackson, and the Beatles or even before Elvis Presley. It all happened on the otherwise calm night of December 7, 1946. Dick gyrated around while his fingers flew performing "Lady of Spain," and overnight, a squealing brigade of bobbysoxers realized that the accordion was cool and that Dick Contino was even cooler. Soon Dick had over 500 fan clubs nationwide and his career went on to spread over seven decades.
Thank you Dick for being a friend – I will forever miss your kind voice and warm positive attitude every time we spoke. Everyone at the Las Vegas International Accordion Convention, where Dick appeared and performed no less than 12 times since 2001, will certainly miss and will forever remember Mr. Entertainment. No doubt Dick is now joining the angels in heaven showing them how to smile, sing and play the happiest instrument ever!
From Paul Pasquale - Las Vegas Accordion Convention
The Accordion. An instrument marred by a strong negative stigma, countless jokes, and a sea of looks when one plays that spill “You play…. Accordion….Why?” But this was not the case in the 1940’s and 50’s. The Accordion was of the Most popular instruments to play across the United States, to the point where even during its downfall in the early 60’s, there was an Accordion / Guitar duel-purpose magazine; something unimaginable today. This immense success was largely due to the achievements of one single accordionist whom woman wanted, and men wanted to be. A showman of the stage whom appeared on the Tonight Show of its day, “The Ed Sullivan Show”, a staggering 47 times. That is in fact, more than The Beatles did. This fame began when he won the very first of a new talent segment on the famed Horace Heidt Show. It was December 7th, 1947, the day the accordion changed forever in the USA. His name – Dick Contino. For the next 4 years, Contino would date famous actresses, have his own TV show, act in movies, and have his name in large letters at famous theaters over smaller letters that read famous names like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
I was incredibly fortunate to closely know Dick from when I was 12 years old, made possible by my “Don’t take No for an answer” father who got us all to have dinner in Las Vegas one day. I cherish the pictures from that night, and they sit in view from where I do my practicing today. It was around this time where I was becoming sure enough of myself and my playing, to know I had something special within me. The ceiling was not just another top accordionist, it was more. Coupled with this, my longstanding battle with the accordion world was well in full force by then, and I saw myself as a rebel on multiple fronts. No one believed in what I felt outside of my teacher and my family, which of course doesn’t count for anything since they’ll always believe in you. President Clinton had my back as well, but he didn’t know Steve Dominko from Lawrence Welk. I needed assurance from someone who had nothing to gain by saying it. Dick was the one, and the quotes he gave me so early on have been my most cherished. A Rebel who did not get along with the accordion world, didn’t believe in the same rules and regulations, and just forged his own path. I saw myself in him from a different generation, and that confidence he gave played a vital role in any challenges I ever faced. Additionally, his longstanding friendship assured it.
Now everyone of course knows he was not anywhere near Coupe Mondiale level for playing ability, whether he was trying to be or not. And he knew it. But this here, has always been the foundation for the rift between the accordion world and Dick Contino. “He didn’t deserve his fame, it should have been Frosini, Galla-Rini or X, Y, Z.” Trust me, I’m always one viciously fighting for actual Ability over showmanship and marketability, but one cannot sit and sulk today about how the accordion remains unpopular, and then be angered about the one person that Did make it truly popular. A beggar, cannot be a chooser, and with it, no one can deny Dick’s still unbeaten charismatic stage presence and ability to culminate what technical talents he Did have, into a captivating show that did to audiences what Elvis did to them.
Furthermore, Dick is not only an inspiration to me; he IS in fact, The reason I play accordion. I of course only play because my father wanted me to, and he only played because he became so overwhelmed with excitement after seeing him time and time again on television, and live in Las Vegas in the 50’s as a child. And that’s just it – So many people around the country played in that Golden Era directly because of Dick, and many who pick up the accordion today, do so because their parent or grandparent played…. and they don’t realize how that very parent or grandparent played, because of Dick. The Contino tree, is still bearing fruit.
I am a man of statistics, and I would truly love the exact numbers, but I can say this; When I was last in Castelfidardo, 2 officials at one of the longstanding accordion manufacturers told me “When the accordion was the #1 export of Italy in the 1950’s, approximately 60% of that was going to the USA, and 80% of that 60%, were sales directly due to Dick Contino’s success and popularity.” So yes, forget the USA, an argument could be made that Castelfidardo’s heyday, was largely due to this one man. The great and powerful accordion schools of the past which had 1000’s of students in various locations across the US can confidently say they produced all the students to make the instrument popular. Absolutely. But without an inception in a human’s mind, there is no driven interest to go learn. Dick Contino Gave that interest in the 4 year run of high profile fame he had, and in his continued performances to full audiences into his early 80’s. Again, I don’t have the exact numbers, and with Dick’s passing I will begin to look into this, but I can tell you across my career, with total honesty and confidence, that every other person I meet who comes to talk about the accordion with me, played it or had interest in the instrument, Soley, because of Dick Contino. Not Pietro Diero, not Charlie Magnante, not the Coupe Mondiale events, and not one of the main accordion organizations’ push to attain interest in the instrument over the many decades.
As I type this, just hours after Mr. Contino has passed away, still processing the news, my dear friend and accordion devotee Dr. Ian Fries texted me, and might summed it up best, “A staff of music is quiet tonight of which we once all enjoyed hearing.”
I’ll miss you so much Dick. The entire accordion world all will.
Musically and Sincerely -