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Veteran enriched lives with singing, civic service

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
William E. Nanni, 88, of Clairton died Wednesday, April 24, 2013.

Clairton baritone Bill Nanni bristled when a roomful of soldiers turned their attention to Ol' Blue Eyes, who sauntered in to the base lounge at St. John's, Newfoundland, during World War II.

“My dad got upset because everyone ignored him for Frank Sinatra,” said Georgiana Riley of Avella.

William E. Nanni of Clairton died on Wednesday, April 24, 2013, in ManorCare Health Services in Whitehall. He was 88.

The lifelong singer performed until the end, his daughter said.

“He sang at the nursing home last Saturday, to tell you the truth,” Riley said. “The women there loved to hear him sing.”

His number that day was “Vesta la giubba” from the Italian opera, “Pagliacci.”

Mr. Nanni was best known, however, for his rendition of “Ol' Man River,” from the musical, “Show Boat.”

“It was just perfect for his voice,” Riley said.

Ralph Russo, Mr. Nanni's nephew and owner of Russo's Hardware in Clairton, said his uncle's voice is something he will always remember.

“It was one of the best I ever heard,” Russo said.

Mr. Nanni was born in Clairton in 1925 to Joseph and Angelina Galati Nanni. He retired as a welder from Hercules Co., now Eastman, in West Elizabeth.

He served in the Army during World War II as a private first class and was a member of St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Clairton.

During wartime and back home, Mr. Nanni sang as often as he could — entertaining soldiers on R&R from Europe and later as a fixture at weddings and funerals, Riley said.

Mr. Nanni joined the Clairton Lions Club in 1953 and went on to serve as chapter president. He was the oldest and longest-serving member.

Wayne Madden, president of The International Association of Lions Clubs, mailed Mr. Nanni a letter last week congratulating him for his 60 years of service.

“He just really believed in their mission and worked hard for them,” Riley said.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Ann D'Emidio Nanni.

In addition to Riley, Nanni is survived by sons William E. Nanni Jr. of Houston; Camille Nanni of Franklin Park; Lee Nanni of Clairton; Raymond Nanni of Los Alamos, N.M.; Gerard Nanni of Arlington, Texas, and Philip Nanni of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; 12 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from noon to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday in A.J. Bekavac Funeral Home, 555 Fifth St., Clairton.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday in St. Clare of Assisi Parish with burial to follow in Jefferson Memorial Park, Pleasant Hills.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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