Sunday (October 16th, 1960) marks the 52nd anniversary of Dion announcing his split from the Belmonts. Dion, whose last name is DiMucci, had been a member of the Bronx, New York street gang the Fordham Baldies when he joined musical forces with Carlo Mastrangelo, Freddy Milano, and Angelo D'Aleo, who were part of a rival gang, the Imperial Hoods. The resulting group took their name from the Bronx's Belmont Avenue.
In 1958, the Belmonts' first Top 40 hit, "I Wonder Why," came to define Italian-American doo-wop, and the group went on to have seven more Top 40 hits with Dion, including the Top Tens "A Teenager In Love" and "Where Or When." The group was fourth on the bill to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson during the ill-fated February 1959 Winter Dance Party tour, which took the lives of the '50s rock legends.
By August of 1960, Dion was making plans to forge ahead with a solo career, and went on to become the first rock and roll artist to be signed to Columbia Records.
In February 1961, Dion wrote to Dig magazine, explaining his departure from the group, saying, "I'd like it understood right from the beginning that our split up was mutual. I didn't leave the Belmonts, nor did they leave me! Freddie, Carlo and Angelo are my closest friends. We've been together a long time. We've shared hard work and defeats as well as success. And each chipped in and done our share -- gladly!"
After Dion's departure the group continued, with Mastrangelo taking over lead vocals, but Dion fared better, scoring 20 Top 40 hits in a three year period, including the Top Tens "The Wanderer," "Lovers Who Wander," "Little Diane," "Ruby Baby," "Drip Drop," and "Donna The Prima Donna," and his sole Number One hit "Runaround Sue."
Although the group briefly reunited in 1966 for the Together Again album, changing musical climates and Dion's heavy heroin addiction caused the reunion to be short lived. The next year Dion became sober, and in 1968 he scored his first Top Ten hit in five years with "Abraham, Martin And John," which paid tribute to assassinated political figures President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
On June 2nd, 1972 Dion & the Belmonts reunited at Madison Square Garden in New York City at an oldies show sponsored by radio station WCBS-FM, and a live album of the event was released the following year, titled Reunion: Live At Madison Square Garden.
Dion says that he'll never retire his legendary '50s and '60s hits from his live act: "Y'know I go out and do those songs. Like, I just played the House Of Blues in Atlantic City -- and people come out to hear songs. And believe it or not -- they're fun to sing. Like 'Donna The Prima Donna,' it's still fun to sing. (Laughs) 'Ruby Baby" -- it's still fun to sing."
Dion says that despite the many genres he's tackled, including doo-wop, R&B, pop, rock, blues and gospel, his music is all coming from the same source: "I've always felt that if you're sitting in a room with me, and I'm playing 'Walkin' Blues' or 'Ruby Baby' -- or anything from the Phil Spector album (he produced for me), or anything from the gospel albums -- it's all 'Dion' music. If you hear it in the room with the guitar, it sounds pretty much. . . it sounds like me."
In 1989, Dion was inducted by Lou Reed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Dion & The Belmonts have performed several times over the years at various Dion solo shows. In 2005, Dion's 1987 Radio City Music Hall concert was issued on CD as Dion And Friends Live In New York City. Performing alongside Dion and his band was Belmont Carlo Mastrangelo.
In October 2009, Dion performed during Paul Simon's extended set at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary Concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden.
On January 1st, 2012, Fred Milano died of lung cancer. Milano, who owned the Belmonts name, lived in Massapequa, Long Island, and continued to perform while employed by the New York City Department of Corrections -- which he joined in 2003 after going back to college late in life -- working with inmates at New York's Rikers Island. Milano is survived by his wife, Lynn, two children and 10 grandchildren.
Earlier this year Dion released his latest album, the critically acclaimed, Tank Full Of Blues.
Dion will perform tonight (October 16th) in New York City at Little Kids Rock's "Right To Rock Celebration" at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
Photo courtesy of Bill Bush