Connellsville's Molinaro Band family to continue under 'Coco'
Francis “Coco” Molinaro does not play a musical instrument, but no one knows the Molinaro Band better than he does. He grew up with it, along with his nine siblings.
Most of his uncles and his father, Henry Molinaro Sr., played in the band, under the directorship of Coco's Great-Uncle Mike Molinaro, who founded it in 1913 as the Royal Italian Band when he immigrated to America.
Ironically, neither Coco Molinaro, his three brother nor his six sisters have played in the band that bears the family name.
Singers, not players
“We grew up singing, not playing,” said Molinaro, noting that most of his siblings have sung in St. Rita's church choir, which has been directed by their father for 60 years. Molinaro continues to sing with the choir, as well as serving as cantor during funerals for St. Rita's, St. John's and Immaculate Conception churches in Connellsville.
Yet the family's life was heavily influenced by the Molinaro Band, whose musicians are like extended family members, as the band plays not only in local parades and concerts but at Molinaro parties and family reunions year after year.
Molinaro is extremely close to his father, who has been the band director for more than 15 years, not long after Henry Sr.'s older brother Amedeo died in the late 1990s. Amedeo Molinaro had been band director since 1936, when “Uncle Mike” died at 47.
Henry Molinaro Jr., a music teacher at Connellsville Area High School, served as band director after Amedeo died, but only temporarily. His family obligations and career became too much to juggle, so Henry Sr. stepped up — and stepped alongside the band in parades.
When Coco Molinaro was a boy, he remembers being intimidated by his pint-sized but fierce “Uncle Medeo,” who operated a tailor shop in Connellsville along with the boy's Uncle Mike Molinaro (another of Henry Sr.'s brothers; he had seven).
“Uncle Medeo yelled a lot. I sure remember that!” Coco Molinaro exclaimed. “Uncle Mike was more even-tempered.”
All four of Henry Sr.'s sons — Henry Jr., Joe, Johnny and Coco — shined shoes in their uncles' tailor shop.
“It was my first job. I was only about 8 or 9 years old,” Coco remembered. “Uncle ‘Medeo charged 35 cents per shine. He'd let us keep a dime, and he kept the quarter; he said it was to pay for supplies.
“What the heck, though,” he continued. “A dime was a dime. If you got enough of 'em, you had a dollar. This was back in the 1970s, you know?”
However, the boys were delighted when Uncle Medeo had the day off and they worked for Uncle Mike instead. “He let us keep the whole 35 cents. We were rich!”
After Uncle Medeo died and Henry Sr. took the band directorship from Henry Jr., Coco saw firsthand how much work it was — and his father was no spring chicken.
Coco steps up
“I thought to myself, ‘He can't do this all alone,' ” Coco Molinaro said.
So he went to his Uncle Mike in 1999 (Mike died in 2000) and asked for a band uniform. Back then the group marched in light blue shirts and navy slacks with a gold stripe down the leg. Today the band wears embroidered navy blue golf shirts and khakis.
“Uncle Mike just looked at me like I was nuts,” Molinaro recalled. “He said, ‘Whaddya think you're gonna do, Coke? What instrument are you gonna play?' ”
Molinaro laughed at the memory. “I told him, ‘The kazoo.' He said, ‘OK, I can see that. You play the kazoo.' ”
After he finished laughing at his nephew, Mike gave him a uniform, which Molinaro has worn since 2000.
Today Molinaro chauffeurs his father in parades, as Henry Sr.'s marching days have ended. And the band has a Molinaro future with a non-instrument-playing but loyal Coco Molinaro at the helm.
“It seems just like yesterday that I got involved,” Molinaro said. “But 13 years have flown by. I can't believe it.”
Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.