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Don Cox RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
Posted: 12/11/2003 12:57 am
Frankie Fanelli gave Northern Nevada its voice and face from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, an era of glitz and glitter when headline singers backed by large orchestras turned Reno’s casinos into some of the country’s hottest entertainment spots. Fanelli died Sunday in Carson City. He was 71. The cause of death was not announced.
“He was a big part of the local scene,” said Harry Spencer, a casino public relations director when Fanelli performed at the old Riverside and Mapes hotels. “He typified what Reno was in those days.”
Art Long is a longtime entertainment writer in Reno-Sparks. “The first time I ever saw him, he was the production singer at the show at the Riverside,” Long said of Fanelli. But there was more to Fanelli than his voice.
“He looked better in a tuxedo than anybody else,” Spencer said. “He had a great personality. The guy was on all the time. He had the talent.”
Fanelli, who sang on casino stages at night after driving a beer truck during the day, grew up in New York and came to Reno in the 1950s after his post-Korean War discharge from the Navy in Los Angeles.
“Dad came up to
Reno because he wanted to break into the entertainment business,” said
Frank Fanelli Jr., his son.
Along with the headline acts, casinos featured their own shows, with orchestras, lines of chorus girls and a featured singer. Fanelli was a star of those shows. “Frankie was the ‘boy singer.’ That’s what we called him,” Spencer said. “He was a real handsome young kid, bright-eyed with lots of enthusiasm.”
Fanelli toured with Jack Benny, but one of his biggest fans was Sinatra. Frank Fanelli Jr. recalled one night at a casino in Atlantic City when Sinatra showed up with some friends to hear his father sing. “Frank Sinatra walks in and says, ‘I want from here to here roped off. I’m bringing 50 people in to hear Frankie tonight,’ ”said Frank Fanelli Jr., who traveled with his father. “What an era to grow up in.”
When the orchestras, chorus girls and headliners disappeared from casino stages in Reno, Frankie Fanelli performed in California and other parts of the country. He recorded 14 single records and seven albums, Frank Fanelli Jr. said.
moved from Reno to Sacramento in the 1980s, returning to Northern Nevada
two years ago.