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Relatives visit South Allegheny to share music legacy

| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 1:36 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Mark George, CEO of the Music Institute of Chicago, reflects on his family's history in Glassport during a Friday visit with South Allegheny students. He is seated next to his cousin, band director Jessica Humanic.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
South Allegheny High School students, including front row from left, Kaitlyn Trunzo, Maddy King and Karissa Jones, applaud Mark George for sharing his family's history and music.

Musical talents of the late Edward J. George left a lasting impression on the people of Glassport and neighboring South Allegheny communities.

As director of the Sons of Italy Lodge 941 Fiesta Band from 1959 to the mid 1990s and a founding member of the 1928 Glassport Band, Edward J. George was a renowned voice for music in the Mon Valley town that captured what was happening in small Italian neighborhoods across the East Coast. His legacy was honored this week at South Allegheny High School with a Thursday evening concert and a Friday afternoon Q-and-A session between concert band students and members of the George family.

On Thursday, Edward J. George's eldest son, Jim George, his youngest son, Mark George, and his nephew Frank George joined students onstage. They shared the family's history in celebration of what would have been the year of Edward J. George's 100th birthday. Jim George played clarinet, Mark George played percussion and Frank George played trumpet as they performed “Defenders of Liberty.”

South Allegheny band director Jessica Humanic, a relative of the George family, sent literature home with students and included a brief family history in the spring concert program.

“One of my first musical memories is of my Uncle Eddie,” Humanic said, naming him as her inspiration for being a musician. “Having the family involved in this concert is a highlight for me, for the students and for the community. The students didn't know about this stuff until they took the information home and showed it to their parents. They realized it was something special.”

Edward J. George joined the Glassport Band in 1927 and reorganized it after a Great Depression and World War II hiatus. He played with the Army Air Force Band in 1942 and led an 18-piece Swing Era band that toured the European Theatre of War. He took the Sons of Italy band to its first Carnegie Hall concert in 1964. He later founded the Italian Festival Music Heritage Society, in which he established a library for Italian band music and supervised the collection and its preservation.

Mark George, a 1978 South Allegheny graduate, followed up the concert with a casual talk on Friday afternoon.

“It's been more than 30 years since I graduated, but it seems like just a couple of years ago,” he said. “I went to school with some of your parents, and there are names in this program that I recognize.”

Recognizing an emotional tie to the music they played, he said South Allegheny students share the love and spirit of music with Edward J. George.

“Music is a lifeline for people,” he said. “There are very few places in the world like Glassport, where people aren't rich, but they still have access to music.”

Mark George said the Italian band lifestyle brought blue-collar workers together for entertainment after they punched their time cards at the steel mill or other factories.

“None of them became professional musicians, but every one of them had a sensitivity and a love of music,” he explained. “It was something they could do that was meaningful to them because life, otherwise, was all about work.”

Senior Jenni Urban, who plays the clarinet, said having members of the George family onstage and in the classroom was like a family reunion for the district.

“It was amazing,” she said. “It was great to have them back in the community — bringing back such a local legend, such history.”

Sophomore Falco Muscante, who plays the alto saxophone, said the George family perspective on music brought a lot of tradition and local history into play. He said it's important to step out of traditional teaching from time to time to remember that music is a labor of love.

“Music isn't something that you just wake up one day and are good at,” he said. “It's something you work every day to be good at.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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