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Molinaro Band's family ties survive wars, name changes

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 7:48 p.m.
The Royal Italian/St. Rita Band, now the Molinaro Band, was funded in 1913 by Italian immigrant Michael Molinaro. This photo was taken in the early 1930s.
The Royal Italian/St. Rita Band, now the Molinaro Band, was funded in 1913 by Italian immigrant Michael Molinaro. This photo was taken in the early 1930s.
Molinaro Band marching down Pittsburgh Street in the 1980s.
Molinaro Band marching down Pittsburgh Street in the 1980s.
Carmine Molinaro Sr. with the Conn Area Band.
Carmine Molinaro Sr. with the Conn Area Band.

Connellsville's Molinaro Band's root comes from the “boot”: Italy, where music maestro Giovanni Molinaro taught the art of low brass to his younger brother Michael Molinaro.

One hundred years ago, Mike “marched” the music across the Atlantic Ocean to Connellsville, forming the Royal Italian St. Rita's Band in 1913.

The band's name has changed several times during the past century but not its family ties. Only five men have marched as director – all of them named Molinaro.

In the Molinaro family, memories of “Uncle Mike” are treasured — almost sacred — although it's been more than 75 years since Mike passed away in 1936 at 47.

Name dates to 1936

“When Uncle Mike died, we renamed the group the Molinaro Band in his honor,” said Amedeo Molinaro in a 1982 interview. Amedeo took up the music mantle with gusto, leading the ensemble for more than 50 years.

Amedeo, who owned a tailor shop in Connellsville, taught several generations of Molinaros to march and play. He enthusiastically recruited musicians from the Fay-West area, drawing heavily from high school bands. Hundreds of players have come and gone, and many others have marched for decades.

The Molinaro Band plays in every Connellsville parade; they're a fixture at the city's annual Memorial Day celebration. Over the years, they've taken their spirited brass sound to parades and competitions throughout Western Pennsylvania and even to out-of-state competitions. But hometown has always been their heart.

In 1968, the group merged with New Haven Hose Company, whose band had dissolved, and the ensemble was renamed the Molinaro/New Haven Hose Band. In recent years, New Haven Hose volunteer firefighters proudly march with their own bagpipers, unaffiliated with the Molinaro name.

Small, mighty Amedeo

Amedeo Molinaro was diminutive in size but formed a mighty presence when it came to music, especially the low brass sound of marching tunes. He was fondly nicknamed the “Little Giant.” To this day, the Molinaro Band leans heavily on songs by brass composers, especially John Philip Sousa.

Sousa's music emphasizes low brass, which Amedeo was quoted as saying gives the Molinaro Band its “oomph!”

“Of course, we have our drummers and reed instruments (such as clarinets and saxophones),” Amedeo said in 1982. “But it's those trombones, bass horns and trumpets that make you hear the band from miles and miles away.”

Amedeo was assisted by his older brother, Carmine Molinaro Sr., for many years. When Amedeo served with the Army during World War II, Carmine directed the band, which saw more than 120 local units of soldiers off to war at the B&O Railroad station.

When Amedeo finished his military service, Carmine relinquished his baton but continued to be active with the Molinaro Band until he passed away in the 1980s. Amedeo marched as the band's director until shortly before his death in 1997 at 86.

By that time, younger Molinaros assisted him, especially his younger brother, Henry Molinaro Sr. After Amedeo passed away, Henry Sr.'s son, Henry Molinaro Jr., served briefly as the band's fourth director.

However, Henry Jr., a longtime music teacher at Connellsville Area High School, had a growing family at the time. He was unable to devote enough hours to effectively run the band. He turned to his father for help, and Henry Sr. has marched with and managed the ensemble since the late 1990s.

The band plays on

Henry Sr. will turn 85 in August, but he still manages the band with gusto. Maybe the brisk pace that he sets is fueled by the comforting knowledge that a sixth Molinaro is waiting in the wings to take over the reins.

For more than a decade, Henry Sr.'s son, Francis “Coco” Molinaro, has assisted with the band's organization and has often carried its banner out front during performances.

So the Molinaro Band plays on — and if Uncle Mike is watching from the pearly gates, he's sure to be smiling.

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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