WEST ORANGE, NJ - What do American Bandstand, the Oscar-winning film "Going My Way," and former New Jersey Governor Brendan T. Byrne have in common? The answer is a 100th Anniversary concert celebrating the life and music of Father Joseph P. Connor, beloved parochial vicar and American music composer at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in West Orange on September 14.
The Les Elgart Orchestra, a 40s Big Band best-known for "Bandstand Boogie," the American Bandstand theme song, will perform many of Father Connor's compositions. Connor was the inspiration for Father O'Malley in "Going My Way," the classic film that earned Bing Crosby a best actor nod in 1944. The event chair is Gov. Brendan T. Byrne, who was a youth at Our Lady of Lourdes while Father Connor served there.
Father O'Connor composed popular and religious music during the twenties, thirties and forties. His best-known contemporary work is When I take my Sugar to Tea, which is regularly performed by the Les Elgart Orchestra. Other songs include By a Waterfall, You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me, The Golden Dawn, Lilies of Lorraine, The Far Green Hills of Home, Little Black Dog, I Shall Return, Love Sends a Little Gift of Roses, Miracle of the Bells and Honeymoon Lane. Father O'Connor wrote several movie scores including Footlights on Parade and 42nd Street.
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“His history is truly amazing,” said Our Lady of Lourdes Pastor, Father James Ferry. “He was composing during the great swing era, and this year—our 100th anniversary-- is the right time to tell his unique story, celebrate his contributions to the parishes he served, and touch more people through his music.”
He is credited with 180 songs of his own; 330 in collaboration with composers like Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal, and his works were recorded by superstars like Frank Sinatra. His friends included Ed Sullivan, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Jack Dempsey. He also worked closely with Oscar Hammerstein.Father Connor frequently used pseudonyms for his works, including Pierre Norman and John OpenshawIn.
Just like Father Chuck O'Malley in "Going My Way," Father Connor used his royalties for parish and the poor, and spearheaded the construction of Our Lady of Lourdes School. Sadly, after a short illness, Father Connor passed away in 1952 at the age of 54.
The Les Elgart Orchestra will perform Father Connor's music in a concert on Sept. 14 at Our Lady of Lourdes, One Eagle Rock Avenue, beginning at 2:15 pm. General admission is $50.00. On November 9, a 100th Anniversary Mass will be held and a Gala Celebration will take place at the Hanover Manor. More information on those events will be provided in the near future.