Cohorts, Companions and Competitors

A cohort is a group of subjects who share a defining characteristic – in this case, performing and playing music. Tony had an association with many musicians over the years and most likely competed for jobs in bands or orchestras with other accordion players. The small-scale 400 page book below is a membership list of the The Chicago Federation of Musicians, a goldmine of information published in 1942. Tony and his cousin by the same name were long-standing members up until their untimely deaths in 1963 and 1964. The book describes union members, instruments played, names of arrangers, bands and orchestras. The accordion section has over 600 accordionist members alone!

Chicago Federation of Musicians Membership List, June 1st, 1942. Union Local No. 10. Book courtesy of author.

CFM Members, Anthony Camarata Jr (Tony) and his cousin, Anthony Camarata, both accordionists on page 236. Book courtesy of author.

Art Van Damme, Andy Arcari, Robert Davine, Jimmy Blade, Bobby Tinterow, Horace Heidt, Don Orlando, Bob Smith, Art Cavalieri were some of the men he either knew personally, worked with or were inspired by. Many other musicians are noted on an earlier post.

Art Van Damme

Art Van Damme, theatrical photo by Maurice Seymour, Chicago, courtesy of the author.

Several years ago, I wrote to jazz accordionist Art Van Damme (1920-2010) to see if he knew Tony since the photo was dedicated to him. Here is his response to me:

Art Van Damme Letter

Letter from Art Van Damme to author, January 10, 1997.

Tony had a long history with Jimmy Blade, pianist, arranger and band leader. In addition to their professional relationship, they were also friends. Jimmy and wife, Jean were witnesses for Tony and Lucille’s wedding in 1941. The marriage took place at the Courthouse in Colorado Springs instead of their home town, Chicago. Jimmy’s orchestra had a four-week engagement at the swank Broadmoor Hotel resort that year and again in 1942. I was fortunate to meet his daughters in Illinois a few years back to who furnished me with a wealth of stories, news clippings, and photos, some that are posted here.

Tony played with Jimmy Blade

Jimmy Blade (1907-1974), Pianist, Arranger, Band Leader. Press photo by Maurice Seymour, Chicago, courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade, pianist and band leader

Jimmy Blade relaxing while reading sheet music, “Happy in Love” composed by Same E. Fain, Published by Leo Feist Inc. 1941. Photo courtesy of P.Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade reading “Happy in Love” sheet music and as an arranger, probably making some notes for an upcoming gig. Jimmy’s career included recording and live radio in Chicago, and later had his own show with NBC.

Jimmy Blade’s Musical Synopsis – National Broadcasting Company. Courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Sheet Music featuring Jimmy Blade and his Orchestra. Courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade news clip, courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade had a long run at the Camellia House from 1951 to 1967, playing with various musicians over the years; Nicholas Busta – clarinet, flute, tenor saxophone, Richard Caldwell – accordion, Ray Lube – bass, Earl Schwaller – violin, who was also a sideman with Wayne King, to name a few. After Jimmy retired, Bill Snyder took the helm until 1970.

Jimmy Blade news clip, courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade news clip, courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade featured in Orchestra World magazine. Article courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

In Tony’s archives, a vintage press photo of Robert Davine, accordionist and professor of music at the University of Denver, was found. According to many Robert Davine was a true virtuoso of the concert accordion.”  I believe he was an inspiration to Tony on some level, even if they never met, or he wouldn’t have had this photograph.

Robert Davine, Accordionist (1924-2001). Theatrical photo by Excelsior, courtesy of the author.

Another vintage photo from Tony’s collection was of accordionist, Angelo “Andy” Acari, originally from San Biagio, Italy. He made a name for himself in America as soloist in theaters, nightclubs, concerts, radio and television broadcasts including NBC.

Photo from Tony M. Camarata's archive

Andy Arcari (1907-1994) Theatrical photo by Excelsior, courtesy of the author.

The Excelsior brochure was also in Tony’s archive; he may have been considering this brand of accordion, the same one that Andy played. It was common to have more than one instrument in a musician’s possession. I am lucky to have one of my father’s Reno brand accordions, not as attractive as the earlier ornate instruments that got lost or sold over the years. They were quite decorative and at one point it was fashionable to have your name on your instrument. There’s a family story that the reason the name Cammarata was altered by removing one “m” was that it was too long to fit on the one of the smaller accordions, however, most family members kept the original surname with both letters.

Accordion Excelsiola Brochure of Tony C 1955

Accordion Excelsiola 1955 Brochure from Tony’s archives, courtesy of author.

Competitors, Cohorts or Companions?

Advertisement, “Excelsior Album of Stars for 1950”

Tony Camarata Don Orando Lyle's Monte Carlo news clip crop 1947 Jan. 2.doc

Tony Camarata  as strolling troubadour at same club as Don Orlando and his Trio  in 1947.

Don Orlando, accordionist and band leader, also performed live on radio for WBBM in Chicago as well as recorded music for various record label, many that can be found online.

Tony played with Don Orlando

Don Orlando, Accordionist

Don Orlando & his Symphony Five 78 Record featuring vocals by Sam Bari, baritone.

Don Orlando and His Symphony Five. Features Sam Bari and Danny Parker. Courtesy of The Billboard Magazine, Jan. 24, 1948.

Art Cavalieri, bass player was also part of the trio “Men of Rhythm” with Tony Camarata and Sam Bari. These guys changed band names or went solo depending on available opportunities at the time. Art’s advertisement says it all, “Duo,Trio, Quartet to augment any size desirable.”

Art Cavalieri. Promotional advertisement, courtesy of T. Cavalieri.

The Velvetones, unknown violinist, Al Rhomba, accordion, Art Cavalieri on bass. Photo courtesy of T. Cavalieri.

Jobs may have been plenty in the 40s and 50s, however, the market was saturated with musicians and entertainers all vying for the same jobs and many at the same professional level. Probably a lot depended who you knew, and where you hung out — a big plus if you had a good agent. By the time rock and roll appeared in the 50s, the accordion wasn’t relevant anymore so Tony’s job prospects pretty much dried up by the early 60s. About the same time, he returned to Chicago due to ill health. In 1963, just days before his 48th birthday, he passed away.



Charles Cammarata – Accordion Teacher Extraordinaire

Buiness Card Photo

Charles Cammarata Photo from Business Card. Courtesy of J. Cammarata

It’s unknown exactly when Charles began his accordion school, or where lessons were given, however, his business card notes his home address in Chicago. He and his family lived on 54th Place, just a few blocks from the Italo-American Accordion Company, located at 51st and Kedzie at the time. After reading an article published about the company in 2009, the author wrote to Anne Romagnoli, business owner, now age 87 who responded back to say she remembered a Cammarata giving lessons on the Southwest side of Chicago. Charles sold accordions as part of a lesson package and may have used Italo-American as his accordion dealer. His son, Anthony also taught accordion.



Cammarata Father & Son Biz Card

Cammarata Business Card – Father & Son.

Belonged to Charles Cammarata

Leo Piersanti Accordion Method Book Courtesy of J. Cammarata

This was a time that accordions were all the rage and schools were popping up in major cities. Leo Piersanati, started one of the first accordion schools in Chicago in the 1920’s and his book, Piersanti Piano and Chromatic Accordion Method was most likely the one Charles used. The family has his original book, published in both English and Italian, now a bit tattered, but a nice keepsake.





Exercise for Right Hand

Piersanti Accordion Lesson Book Page

1936 class photos, with Charles (center) surrounded by his beloved students of all ages that also include 2 of his children, Catalda (Kathryn) and Joseph Cammarata.

Cammarata Accordion School Class Photo 1936. Photo courtesy of C. Cammarata Garcea

Cammarata Accordion School Class Photo 1936. Photo courtesy of C. Cammarata Garcea

Aka Cataldo Cammarata

Charles Cammarata Accordion School. C. 1936. Photo courtesy of J. Cammarata.

Young Joseph Cammarata proudly holding his instrument.

Joseph Cammarata as student

Joseph Cammarata, son of Charles. Photo courtesy of C. Cammarata Garcea

Looks like those lessons paid off. Joseph Cammarata many years later.

Joseph Cammarata Accordion from Charlotte

Joseph Camarata, band member of “Rhythm Hits”. Photo courtesy of C. Cammarata Garcea

Joseph Cammarata at the beach, 1948. Photo courtesy of Cammarata Garcea family.

Vaudeville Free Acts of the 1930’s

Antonio, Anthony, Pauline, Henry Pietro

Camarata Four at Charles City, Iowa Fair
Newsclip; Charles City Daily Press July 2, 1930

This high-class troupe of instrumentalists comes from the leading vaudeville theatres throughout the country. The Camarata Four is a great treat to both young and old with their high class and jazzy selections on the piano accordions and guitars. When it comes to tickling the ivorys, Mr. Tony Camarata is in a class by himself and you will enjoy the burlesque opera singing by Henry Pietro, also a member of this group, After seeing and hearing this musical treat you will go home well satisfied that you have spent a perfect day at the Charles City Fourth of July celebration.

Other entertainers performing were The Latour Trio, Harry Sykes and Company, The Aerial Bauers. (Charles City Free Press)

Camarata Four entertainers at American Legion Convention 1930

News Clip: Camarata Four entertainers at American Legion Convention July 1930. Courtesy of Massoth estate.


Camarata Four. Pauline also played guitar and ukelele.

Camarata Four; Antonio, Anthony, Pauline Camarata with Henry Pietro Bismarck, ND, July 1930

Camarata Four; Antonio, Anthony, Pauline Camarata with Henry Pietro
Bismarck, ND, July 23 1930

The Spanish Trio

The Spanish Trio, featuring Angelo, Pauline Camarata in piano shawl, Antonio Camarata. Photo courtesy of Paul Massoth Estate.


Pauline Camarata’s Silk Piano Shawl now a family keepsake treasured by her great-grandaughter.

Vaudeville Days

Brothers Cammarata in the middle

Vaudeville Promo Photo. Middle L. Antonio, Middle R. Cataldo. Photo courtesy of P. Cammarata Lee

Antonio and Cataldo Cammarata were versatile performers, beginning their professional careers in Vaudeville. In many ways, this genre was part of the immigrant experience, bringing disparate cultures together. Beginning in the 1880’s through the early 1930’s vaudeville was home to many performers, until “talking pictures” became popular, causing many shows to close.

Vaudeville Group Promo Photo. Cataldo & Antonio far right. Photo courtesy of P. Cammarata Lee

Vaudeville Group Promo Photo. Cataldo & Antonio far right. Photo courtesy of P. Cammarata Lee

An early image of the Cammarata brothers features them with their fisarmonicas (accordions). This was the beginning of the Golden Age of Accordions. An accordion, a portable wind instrument with chord buttons, has a small keyboard and free reeds that sound when air is forced past them by pleated bellows operated by the player. Many music styles or genres incorporate the accordion depending on the region and have changed dramatically in modern times.

Cammarata Brothers

Antonio and Cataldo, promo photo 1910-1915. Photo courtesy of P. Cammarata Lee

Antonio and Cataldo made the rounds traveling the American vaudeville circuit. Featured in this post include news clips advertising gigs in or about 1920 and other theatrical promotional photos in the 1920’s. The main theatrical photography studios in Chicago of that era were Maurice Seymour, DeHaven and Theatrical Chicago, and Majestic.

Vaudeville Act 1920

Antonio Cammarata at the Rex. 1920. News clip courtesy of Paul Massoth estate.

Vaudeville Gig 1920

Antonio Cammarata at the Imperial. 1920. News clip courtesy of P. Camarata Phillips

Vaudeville Gig abt. 1920

Antonio Cammarata at the The Garing, Greenville, SC Oct. 1920. News clip courtesy of Paul Massoth estate.

News clipping courtesy of L.Valentich

Antonio Cammarata at Bonita Theatre, abt. 1920. News clip courtesy of L. Camarata Valentich estate.