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Friday, July 12, 2024
The Accordion Guy, courtesy of The Times
It was 1931 and a new “king” was about to be crowned. A wealthy, mysterious New York patron had heard a talented Windsor boy play his accordion in Detroit, and decided to sponsor his education in England. The patron remains unknown, though there is some speculation that he was a New York underworld figure with Detroit connections. The boy was Orlando Bracci, soon to be known as “The Accordion King.” Orlando performed at public and private parties in both England and Ireland, and was broadcast live over the British Broadcasting System. King Edward
The Accordion Guy
courtesy of The Times
stated he “had never heard the accordion played with such rhythm.” (Orlando, on his part, thought, “the King was swell.”)

He also performed at the famous Savoy, in London, England.

His accordion was inlaid with diamonds — he played for King Edward VIII — his fingers were insured.

Orlando attended the famous Pietro Deiro Piano-Accordion School in Greenwich Village, New York. The very first school of its kind, it was to produce many accomplished musicians. The late Pietro Deiro and his brother, Guido Deiro, were considered the two greatest accordionists of the century. Guido Deiro is famous as the composer of Kismet, the theme song of a smash Broadway musical, and a song that was featured in two Hollywood movies.

Orlando Bracci could not have been in better company. Already a precocious young talent in 1939, Orlando refined his technique with the touches of master Guido Deiro. Another graduate of the Pietro Deiro School, Carmen Carrozza, is perhaps the most celebrated classical accordionist of the day. He has appeared as soloist with the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of Andre Kostelanetz, and with the Boston Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Arthur Fiedler. Ironically, Carmen Carrozza took his first accordion lesson with Pat Ciccone of Windsor, and remembers Orlando Bracci from their days together at the Deiro School. “Orlando Bracci,” he said, “along with Pixie Dean, were Canada’s two greatest accordionists.”
Orlando was the son of Italian immigrants. His Venetian-born wife, Alice Battagello, was a beauty. The September 6, 1939 Windsor Star shows a radiant Alice Battagello as Miss Windsor. Their son, Randy, was only three years old when his father died, on April 12th, 1960, of a heart attack. Though Orlando had immense strength, he was also diabetic and the strenuous work schedule of a professional musician took an early toll. He was only 41. A simple gravestone on the southwest grounds of St. Alphonsus Cemetery marks his final resting place. Alice Bracci, who died in 1985, ensured she preserved for Randy the memory of his father.
Randy has many memories of his father’s legacy, preserved in boxes of photographs, newspaper clippings, and programs — and a Sonic 78 record on which his father performs Lady of Spain, Spanish Eyes, and a virtuoso rendition of Cole Porter’s classic, Begin the Beguine. One poster bills Orlando as “Canada’s Greatest Accordionist.” There is not one picture where Orlando was not happy and smiling.
Randy even has the bullet that field surgeons extracted from his father’s leg, when he was wounded during WWII, when serving with the Canadian Armed Forces. (Rather than return home, Orlando entertained the troops with the Canadian Air Force show known as “The Blackouts.”)

We can now only speculate how far Orlando’s career would have taken him if he had not died at such a young age. But just as in all the arts, those who die young leave the legend of their talent and the fire of their youth behind them. Long live the memories of Windsor’s own “Accordion King.”(Courtesy of The Times and Salvatore Ala)

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The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.


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