Where’s Papa?

Tony Camarata at the Accordion

Tony Camarata. 1950s. Reno  accordion from Houston, now in possession of Camarata family.

There is a myth that creative people tend to have an addictive personality.Tony didn’t just experiment with drugs and alcohol but had a true addiction to drinking and also suffered from diabetes left uncontrolled which affected his physical and mental health. I imagine that losing both parents when he was 21 had an impact on his adulthood as well. Couple this with a musician’s traveling lifestyle, plus an ego-driven personality, you have a recipe for disaster. After 10 years of marriage and 3 young daughters his wife finally got fed up and filed for divorce in 1951.

Camarata Family Photo 1950

Tony Camarata home with wife, Lucille and daughters, Antoinette & Paulette. Lucille is pregnant with Florette. Chicago 1950

Dear Daughters0001

Letter from Tony Camarata to his 3 daughters, Paulette, Antoinette, Florette from the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, TX. Letter courtesy of P. Camarata Phillips.

The University of Chicago has a scrapbook by Jimmy Granato in their jazz archives that I found during my research. It matches the one I had from my family archives that was published in the Chicago Tribune in 1950. The Dixielanders band members pictured from below from left: Ernie Kolstad (trombone), Al Reed (cornet), Jim Granato (clarinet), Joe Pep (drums),Tony Camarata (accordion). Normally, Paul Benzedian was the pianist with this band, but since he couldn’t bring the piano to the train station, they probably hired Tony to fill in.


The Dixielanders greet movie star Rebel Randall at LaSalle St. station, Chicago. Newsclip from Chicago Herald Feb. 17, 1950. Courtesy of University of Chicago – Jazz Archives

After Tony’s divorce in 1951, he headed south to Galveston, sin city on the Gulf Coast and traveled the circuit playing with various bands. He was hired as a teacher of accordion at Phillip Nevelow’s Music Store and Recording Studio in Galveston and also attempted his hand at writing music and possibly recording.

Tony Camarata Trio

Trio with Tony Camarata on accordion, unknown bass player and guitarist. Venue unknown.


Minor Quartette, Penguin Supper Club, Alexandria, LA – 1951
Philip L. Royale, Birmingham, AL – 1951
Organtime Trio, William & Frank Reneau, Waco, TX – 1952
Turf Athletic Club (Balinese Room), Galveston, TX – 1953 – The Turf was headquarters   of the Maceo syndicate and the Fertitta family
Tony Martin Music Agency (jobbing band), Houston, TX – 1953-4-5-7
James V. Mongiardo, South Houston, TX – 1953
Raymond Russo Orchestra, Houston, TX – 1953
Albert Pliner Entertainment Service, Houston, TX – 1953
Bobby Tinterow Enterprises, Shamrock Hotel, Houston, TX – 1953-4-5-7
Glen Boyd Orchestra, Bellaire, TX – 1953
Larry Lambert Orchestra – Houston, TX – 1953, 1957
Maxims, Houston, TX – 1953
Earl Dantin Orchestra, Old Dutch Inn – 1954
Cheds Lounge Kenner, LA – 1954
The Esquire Orchestra, Earl Dantin – New Orleans, LA – 1954
Officers Club, Earl Dantin, Pensacola, FL – 1955
Jack Tar Charcoal Lounge in Galveston, TX – 1955
Lees Lounge, Houston, TX – 1955
Albino Torres Orchestra, Houston, TX – 1955, 57
Bob Smith Orchestra, Houston, TX 1955
Nevelow Music Box, Galveston, TX – 1956
Balinese Room – Victor & Anthony Fertitta  Galveston, TX – 1955, 56
Richard Bovio Orchestra, Jack Tar Hotel – Charcoal Galley, Galveston, TX 1956
Henry Frank Hlavaty, Houston, TX 1956, 57
Jesse L. Webb Musical Services, Houston, TX – 1956
Dorothy Dragoo Davis, Houston, TX – 1956
Larry Lambert Orchestra, Houston, TX – 1957
Il Sorrento, Inc. Dallas, TX – 1960

Many thanks to Bert Hepler, Bandleader of Merrymakers for the nice chat we had about the Texas music scene in the 1950s.


The Balinese Room was, like many other clubs in Galveston at the time, a place to gamble illegally, but the “B-Room” was able to fend off numerous stings by Texas Rangers. Because the Rangers had to walk the long pier, their arrival was tipped off well in advance, giving players plenty of time to hide their chips and workers plenty of time to drop cloths over the tables. But, in 1957, an undercover operation finally shut down the Balinese Room, changing the Galveston scene forever. In 2001, Scott Arnold purchased the property, reopening a piece of history, but seven years later, Hurricane Ike obliterated the nightclub. (item courtesy of Michael Callahan, Houston Chronicle)

Balinese Room Galveston 385x306

Tony C Penguin Club Alexandria, LA Nov 1951 detail

The Minor Quartette with Tony Camarata, Wizard of the Accordion. Penguin Club, Alexandria, LA. 1951. Newsclip courtesy of P. Camarata Phillips.

Tony played here

Tony Camarata, strolling musician at Maxim’s Restaurant, Houston, 1953. Newsclip courtesy of L. Camarata Valentich.

Town Crier by Bill Roberts

Ex-Balinese entertainer, Tony Camarata playing nightly at Lee’s Lounge, Houston, TX. 1955 Newsclip courtesy of P. Camarata Phillips.

Tony played here at the Jack Tar Hotel

Tony Camarata is joining the Jack Tar’s Charcoal Galley, Galveston, TX. 1956 Newsclip courtesy of P. Camarata Phillips.

Tony Camarata played here

Ched’s Lounge – Kenner, Louisiana


Tony Camarata with Tony Zale. Photo courtesy of Jim Massoth

Gulf Coast 1950’s era continues next post……….


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