All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for June 2004

Man, can this dad sing

Joe (Tony Mann) Mangano is in tune with life

June 20, 2004
Boroughs Daily News

Sing a Father's Day song today for Joe (Tony Mann) Mangano of Brooklyn, who sang for so many over the years and who says he will continue to sing until the fat lady sings.

At 75, Mangano still sings like a bird even though he's imprisoned in the cage of multiple sclerosis.

"I started singing in the late '40s," says Mangano, who grew up on 22nd St. between Fourth and Fifth Aves. in Brooklyn, then a mostly Italian neighborhood.

"I had a cousin, Dom, who loved my voice. He gave me $200 and told me to go get seen to," Mangano recalls. "But in those days, $200 was huge money, like a pot of gold, and it made me so nervous. I went looking over in the city for a great singing teacher, but I didn't trust anybody. I finally gave back the $200."

He soon landed his first gig at a place called Rhineland on 86th St. in Manhattan, crooning the top songs of the age, made popular by Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra.

"People really liked me," Mangano says, but they kept mangling his name. "So I changed it from Joe Mangano to Tony Mann, and soon I was singing all over New York. I played the Alliance Club in the city, and in Brooklyn at the 802 Club, Mi Cali's Terrace, the Airport Lounge, the Glenwood Supper Club. When I was leaving a club, behind me would be Al Martino, or Alan Dale, or Jerry Vale or Adam Wade."

In 1951, Mangano was drafted, but he was discharged after five months for chronic eczema.

"I went right back to singing," he says. "I did gigs with Jimmy Roselli in Jersey, and often appeared at the Miami Club in Staten Island with a very funny and sweet kid named Pasquale Caputo, who changed his name to Pat Cooper."

Then he married a neighborhood girl.

"Anne Parrella was from 19th St. - a wonderful girl, part Italian and part Polish," he says. "She was a great wife, a great mother. We had three sons."

His eldest, Anthony, an accomplished actor who is a semi-regular on "NYPD Blue," has appeared in 11 feature films. He says that when he was growing up, his father was always dressed in a tux.

"It was like having Ricky Ricardo as a dad," Anthony says. "We lived in an apartment, and my dad was always rushing out to sing for a living. Sometimes I'd go with him and watch in awe. Other kids grew up listening to the Beatles, but I grew up on Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Tony Mann."

Rather than sell his soul to the racketeers to make ends meet, Mangano took a side job as an insurance salesman.

"With three kids, I needed the health insurance for the family," he says.

Good move.

"One day, when I was 30, I was working on a song in a studio at 6050 Broadway when I got a terrible pain in my right big toe," the feisty old crooner remembers. "By the time I got home, it had gone up to my knee. Then to my midsection and up to my eye."

He was soon diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"By that time, I was the straight man in a song and dance comedy act called Mann O' Mann, like Lewis and Martin, to whom I was always compared," he says. "But I could no longer perform because I lost my balance. I'm ashamed to say I cursed the Creator."

Mangano was treated with vitamin B shots, and after a few months, the MS went into remission. "I put on the tux and started to sing again," he says.

But a dark cloud followed him. By the time his beloved wife was 50, after a dozen operations, she lost her battle with cancer.

"I thought about how many good times we'd had," he says. "She was always so supportive. It just broke my heart."

Plus, Mangano's MS returned 20 years later.

"I continued to sing, but it limited me," he says. "I met another woman. After a long courtship, I was gonna ask her to marry me, but then she died. Still, here I am.

"I have great kids and grandkids. And I can still sing. A few months ago, I sang in the Knights of Columbus in Sheepshead Bay. And I sing on my karaoke machine at home. I just need to sing. I'll keep on singing until the fat lady sings."

Son Anthony says, "My father's still my idol, the reason I got into showbiz. On Father's Day, I just want him to know that although fate denied him the major stardom he deserved, there's a lot more to life than a name on a marquee. As a father, Joe (Tony Mann) Mangano will always be a star."

Copyright © 2004, Daily News, L.P.