Camarata Mid-Century Muses

Tony finds a muse in Houston and marries her. He was 38 and Annie, from Alabama was 18. This was a second marriage for both of them, however, it only lasted about 3 years. His lifestyle, narcissistic personality, and possibly the age difference played a part.

Tony Camarata Annie Lois Odaware kiss0001

Wedding Embrace, Jan. 2, 1954 in Houston, TX. Photo courtesy of Jim Massoth


Tony & Annie Wedding Group

Wedding Reception for Tony Camarata and Annie Lois Odaware, Jan. 2, 1954. Photo courtesy of Jim Massoth

Now, back to his first love, music….

Earl Dantin, sax player and his brother Lloyd founded The Esquires, a New Orleans band. They played many clubs including the Prevue Lounge, The Monteleone Hotel, Court of Two Sisters, among others. They played with Louis Prima, Huey Long, and Bing Crosby, and performed on radio stations: WDSU & WWL. Tony Camarata wasn’t a full-time member but a sideman who traveled the Gulf Coast circuit in the 50’s.

Esquires Tony Camarata Earl Dantin

The Esquires: L.R. Unk. on maracas, Lloyd Dantin on bass, Earl Dantin on sax, Unk. on guitar, Tony Camarata on accordion. Photo courtesy of Cennamo Woodwinds.

The Old Dutch postcard

Tony played here with the Earl Dantin Orchestra. c.1955

Old Dutch Inn Panama City, Engagement 1955

Tony Camarata played here. Panama City, FL 1955

Anthony Camarata Musician's Union Letter 1955

1955 Letter regarding payment for engagements with Earl Dantin Orchestra. Document courtesy of Florette Camarata.

The Music Box - Galveston, TX

Tony was an accordion instructor with 20 students at the Music Box in 1955. Newsclip courtesy of Eric Nevelow.


Phillip Nevelow, owner of The Music Box, Galveston, TX. Newsclip courtesy of Eric Nevelow.

Tony Camarata, accordion instructor at Nevelow's School of Music.

Tony Camarata, accordion instructor at Nevelow’s Music Box. Newsclip courtesy of The Galveston Daily News, 28 Feb. 1956, pg 5.

On the way to a Houston gig in August 1955, Tony Camarata survived a horrible bus accident where the bus flips, skids, and lands upside-down in a front yard. He spent 6 weeks in traction at La Marque Hospital, Galveston, TX, with a fractured vertebra. After his release, Tony was unable to return to work as an accordionist and music teacher, also because his $1700 custom-built accordion was destroyed in the accident. Due to some bizarre behavior and subsequent pain, he was admitted to John Sealy Hospital – chief complaint: disturbances in walking and speaking, as well as debilitating physical pain from the accident.  He was evaluated physically and mentally – Sealy Diagnosis: acute brain syndrome due to bromide intoxication and abnormal function of the liver. His health was never great having both liver cirrhosis and diabetes. He had been taking various sedatives, including bromides, but also his alcohol consumption from previous years no doubt caught up to him. The psychological report (Jan. 20, 1956) basically notes that although he is “fairly rational, he is narcissistic, extremely preoccupied with his body and its functions (hypochondriac) and has a grandiose self image.” As far as family, referring to his 3 daughters, “noncontributory.” He was quite “happy with his profession and that he has his music” when asked about recreation. One of the strangest complaints mentioned, “tones on his musical instrument gives weird sensations throughout his body especially F sharp and A flat.” Overall prognosis given by the evaluating doctor when finally released: Good.

Perhaps having residual pain from the accident and having few gigs, he attempted songwriting but went back to the stage eventually. As of yet, no songs have been found but a few recordings are in the author’s archive but need to be sourced before shared on the blog.

Anthony Camarata Indy Songwriters Member Letter 1956

Tony plays around with songwriting. Member Letter 1956. Document courtesy of Florette Camarata.

Anthony Camarata Indy Songwriters Member Certificate

Tony played here

Tony Camarata Gig at Gay 90 Follies, Biloxi, MS. Newsclip courtesy of Jim Massoth, Biloxi Daily Herald, April 26, 1958.


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

Jobs were drying up for him on the Gulf Coast around 1960, so he headed back to his hometown, Chicago. There he met his next muse, Lela Roxy Fox, and yes, that’s her real name. She was a waitress at the Corner House who was 16 or so years his senior and also related to the family through marriage of his maternal Aunt who he later ended up living with due to his declining health.

Lela Foxie Rox500

Ms. Lela Roxie Fox

The Corner House restaurant Chicago

Lela’s employer in the early 1960s, Chicago. Image courtesy of

After a long illness, Tony Camarata passed away on April 9, 1963, just a few days before his 48th birthday. Medical cause of death: acute coronary occlusion with generalized atherosclerosis adding the condition, diabetes mellitus. His loving Aunt whom he lived with at the time said he died from a broken heart, a syndrome which is thought to be real.


Anthony Camarata obituary published by Chicago newspaper, April 1963. Author is not responsible for information errors. Tony’s cousin by the same name, also an accordionist (1911-1964) featured on an earlier post was a member of the Tripoli Trio.

Camarata Chicago Obit B & C

Anthony Camarata obituary published by Chicago newspaper, April 1963. Author is not responsible for information errors.

Tony Camarata (1915-1963) was interred in a family plot with his parents, Antonio and Pauline Camarata and maternal grandmother, Rose Massoth, at St. Joseph Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois.

~ ~ ~







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……….