Staten Island in 1957-58 was a pretty isolated borough with limited connections geographically and culturally to the world at large. I was a sophomore at New Dorp High School that fall and winter and rock ‘n roll, the music we loved, was in its infancy – barely 10 years removed from the swing music of our parents. We found in it our identity, as we explored who we were and who we were becoming.
Vito Picone was a senior at New Dorp, and his fledgling singing group, the Elegants, used to practice their harmonies in the "echo chamber" courtyard of the school. They were often heard between classes - and sometimes during classes. Doo Wop singing groups were ubiquitous in those days: SIRT train stations, school stairwells, the boy’s bathroom – anywhere a group of teenagers gathered, sooner or later you'd hear a few bars of whatever top -10 song was charting at the time.
But our music came mainly from the radio. It was the era of the rock ‘n roll disc jockey. Cousin Brucie, Murry the K, Alan Freed, Jocko Henderson, all served up what we couldn't get enough of. The local groups, like the Elegants and dozens of others, performed at the church dances and school hops. So when we heard that the Elegants had signed with an actual recording label, we could hardly believe it. Vito and his group were still at NDHS, but things thereafter happened very quickly.
I believe their very first release was "Little Star," and as we all witnessed, the record got immediate and omnipresent airplay. You could not turn on an AM radio without hearing the mellow harmonies of our Vito and his South Beach buddies crooning "oh meee o meee o my-y-y-y"
We (all my friends) were thrilled that "one of our own" was an actual rock ‘n roll celebrity.
We were glued to our black & white TV's to watch as Vito and the boys made an appearance on the most popular teenage dance show of them all...American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark. The Elegants dutifully lip-synced their number one nation-wide hit "Little Star," then repaired to the interview corner for Dick to quiz them on their meteoric rise to the top of the charts. We all hung on every word they uttered; here on national television were our Ambassadors of Arrochar and points south.
"So" said the smooth Mr. Clark, "Just how did you choose your name 'The Elegants'?" There was a silence. They all looked dumbfounded. Clark was getting uneasy. He thrust the mike in front of Artie Venosa. Venosa suddenly found his tongue.
"Jeezus, I don't know!" he said.
We all cheered!