CALDWELL, NJ – The first time most people heard Lou Vanaria sing was the opening of “A BRONX TALE,” the 1993 Robert DeNiro movie about crime in the 1960’s. As the narrator talks about the neighborhood he grew up in, the sounds of doo wop fill the background. That lead voice is Vanaria. (for clip, click here).
Over 20 years later, “Crazy Mario” (Vanaria’s character in the movie) is still singing. On April 24, he takes the stage at the Fourth Annual “Rock Out Lung Cancer” Benefit for Prelude to a Cure, a non-profit started by West Caldwell resident Claire Mattern to support lung cancer research. The event will be at Calandra’s Il Vecchio Café in Caldwell.
Vanaria headlines the event, along with A Cappella Group Cool Change, singing police officer Tommy Scala from America’s Got Talent and local singer/songwriter John Monnecka. Mattern created the event to combine music with her desire to help cancer patients.
“We are incredibly excited by the amazing array of musical talent that will perform at this year’s event,” Mattern says. “From a cappella, to Rock n’ Roll, to classic crooning, there will be something for everyone.” In addition to the music, a silent auction and buffet are included, and surprise guests have also been promised.
Mattern says 100% of the proceeds from Rock Out Lung Cancer 2016 will go to support groundbreaking research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, one of the country’s leading institutions for cancer research, diagnosis and treatment.
This isn’t the first time Vanaria has been to Prelude. “I know Claire for 10 years, and have been to a couple of the events,” says Vanaria. “I sang a couple songs with one of the bands, but never performed officially. This is the first year I’m performing.”
“It is an honor and privilege to come together with all these great musicians to lend our time and talents in the fight against this dreadful disease,” he says.
Vanaria says times have changed much from when he was a boy growing up in the Bronx. He says smoking was just a part of life back then. “I have a picture of myself as a baby, my father holding me and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.”
Singing was always his first love. When he started performing, Vanaria sang anywhere he could in New York. Never a smoker himself, he recalls how performing in New York night clubs exposed him, and other musicians, to second-hand smoke.
“I sang in a piano bar when smoking was allowed in restaurants. I’d sing for four hours, 8-midnight, go home, wake up the next day and not be able to breathe or talk,” he says. “I thought it was from the singing, but it wasn’t.”
Today, the cigarette and cigar smoke that used to fill bars, restaurants and nightclubs is gone. “Now I can sing for hours and I don’t get fatigued,” he says. So when Mattern asked him to perform this year in the fundraiser to help research for lung cancer, he had to do it.
“My lungs are my moneymakers, so I feel I need to support them,” he says. “If I lost my voice, I’d go broke,” says Vanaria. After the benefit, Vanaria takes those moneymakers on a quick trip to his next gig that night….at New York’s Rainbow Room, where he will be singing that evening.
Rock Out Lung Cancer 2016 will be held April 24 from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Calandra’s Il Vecchio Café, 234 Bloomfield Avenue in Caldwell. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $50 at www.preludetoacure.org or for $60 at the door.
“Every year at this time, I am reminded of the line sung by the late, great English singer and musician Joe Cocker, who, ironically enough, died of lung cancer in 2014 – ‘we get by with a little help from our friends,’” Mattern said. “We hope all our friends, new and old, will join us on April 24th and offer a little help in the fight against this all-too-common and devastating disease.”
In addition to his singing appearances, Vanaria can also be heard in “Friends and Romans”, a new Netflix movie, premiering this June. Click here for the song he wrote and performs in the movie.
To see Lou, actor Vincent Pastore and others from the 2014 Rock out lung cancer, click here.