Michael Arnone, 63, sang with Duprees
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

As an original member of The Duprees, Michael J. Arnone sang the silken harmonies that stole the hearts of popular music fans, leaving audiences swooning over hits like the 1962 "You Belong to Me."

Mr. Arnone, a Jersey City street-corner doo-wop wonder, joined up with four other local boys and hustled to get a New York record contract in the early 1960s. They ultimately notched eight hits in the top 100, according to Norm N. Nite's encyclopedia "Rock On."

"As far as'60s doo-wop pop goes, you would probably have to put them in the top three groups," said Ronnie Italiano, a friend of Mr. Arnone's and president of United in Group Harmony Association, a 29-year-old preservation organization.

The Duprees' legacy would become a lifetime vocation for Mr. Arnone, even after the other original members were no longer part of the group. He took control of The Duprees' name, rekindled the old harmonies with new members in the 1980s -- occasionally singing with them until 1993 -- and ensured the group's success through this year on the casino and club circuits.

Last Thursday, he died at home in Wall after a long illness. He was 63.

Mr. Arnone was born in Jersey City and grew up in the heavily Italian-American neighborhood of Marion, according to his ex-wife, Liz Arnone. He attended Dickinson High School but began touring as a teen singer before he could graduate.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Arnone's baritone voice helped create the group's smooth, distinctive sound, a form of doo-wop tinged with the strings and horns of the big band era. After "You Belong to Me," they scored several big hits, including "My Own True Love" and "Have You Heard."

The group was led by singer Joey Cazano, also known as Joey Vann. Mike Kelly replaced Vann in 1964.

The original group appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" on Aug. 14, 1962, and was one of the first white doo-wop acts to perform at Harlem's Apollo Theater, according to Ron O'Brien, Mr. Arnone's friend and personal manager. A fan Web site, theduprees.com, said the group got a standing ovation at the Apollo.

But the applause didn't last.

The Beatles and British Invasion bands largely sidelined The Duprees in the mid-1960s, forcing Mr. Arnone and the others into semi-obscurity. He eventually finished an accounting degree, Liz Arnone said.

"For a good decade, he worked at hot dog stands and music stores," said Olivia Arnone, his daughter, who recalls his "outgoing and dynamic presence" and optimism despite the hard times. "There was just no audience. And the disco era killed it, too."

Yet popular taste for The Duprees' vocal harmonies had disappeared almost entirely by the time disco hit the airwaves in the 1970s.

"They weren't working, and I had to go back to work," Liz Arnone said. "He was a good Mr. Mom. He amused the children."

With some new Duprees members, Mr. Arnone began pushing the group again in the 1980s. Fan interest began to revive around 1985, Liz Arnone said.

Italiano said Mr. Arnone was "smart enough to register the name." The group continues to be one of the best of its genre on the oldies circuit, he said.

"I give Mike a lot of credit for sticking it out," O'Brien said. "He could have given this up a long time ago ... Now this will continue until we all meet Elvis."

The Arnones married in 1970 and had three children.

"When we met, I thought he was the most exciting man I had ever met," Liz Arnone said. "People were constantly chasing him around, especially the women."

Olivia Arnone recalls growing up in a household full of music, orchestrated by her "outgoing and dynamic" father who "was never off stage." A deeply spiritual person, he loved classical music and yoga.

A 2003 Atlantic City cameo performance brought it all back for Olivia and other family and friends familiar with Mr. Arnone's old Duprees days.

"He hadn't been onstage in 10 years," she said. " I hadn't heard him since I was a little girl. He sounded just like he did on the albums. His voice was loud and deep."

In addition to his ex-wife, Liz, and daughter, Olivia, Mr. Arnone is survived by another daughter, Isabella Ahern, a son, Augustus, a sister, Andrea Pastore; and a grandchild.

Visiting hours will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Weatherhead Young Funeral Home, 885 Mantoloking Road, Brick. Cremation is private.