John Arcesi


John Anthony Arcesi was an American singer of Jazz and Popular songs.


Early life

Born in Sayre, Pennsylvania on February 11, 1917. John's father, Antonio Arcesi, and mother, Maria Marchone, were born in Sezze, Italy. Antonio traveled alone to America at the turn of the century, leaving his wife and first born son, Ignatius, behind in Italy until he could establish himself. Upon reuniting in America, Antonio and Maria promptly had four more children. Josephine, Loretta, Louis and Johnny. Johnny's mother died of pneumonia when he was only 10 months old. When Johnny was a child, his father Antonio (Tony) played an Enrico Caruso disc on a Victrola and from then on Johnny knew what he wanted to do with his life. As a result he became a child prodigy singing whenever possible in public or private in the Sayre, Athens and Towanda area of Pennsylvania, as well as Waverly, New York, and as far as Scranton, Pennsylvania and Elmira, New York. He turned professional at the age of 10 after winning a talent show/contest that was produced in Sayre at the Sayre Theatre by the great 'Blackstone the Magician',Harry Blackstone,Sr. in c.1927. Young Johnny sang for every club or organization in the area that wanted talent to perform for their various causes, i.e., The Elks, Lions, et,al. He would also sing at the local Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre for the patients. In 1932 after a fire almost destroyed the family home, young Johnny, with his father's blessing, decided to travel alone to NYC to become a band vocalist. His childhood idols and inspirations were Bing Crosby, Russ Columbo, Red McKenzie, as well as well as other popular singers of the day.

Professional Career & Rise to Fame

Arcesi (RCC) first made a name for himself as a vocalist for prominent bands starting in c.1933 in NYC. His first recordings,c.1934, were on the Columbia label with Lud Gluskin and Orchestra. These titles were "Hands Across the Table" and "Moonlight On The River Danube". His next recordings on Bluebird Records with Louis 'King' Garcia in 1936, recording five vocals for the date: "It's Great To Be In Love Again","Christopher Columbus","Swing Mr. Charlie","There Is No Greater Love", and "Love Is Like A Cigarette". One of his first important live performances and live broadcasts was with the Claude Hopkins Orchestra at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan. Hopkins let Johnny sing with the band after an impromptu audition backstage. Johnny was employed at Mills Music Publishing Company in the Brill Building as a song demonstrator and office assistant during the day, and singing in various clubs in NYC at night. Irving Mills,upon meeting Johnny as he rehearsed with Joe Venuti in NYC, suggested that the name Arcesi sounded too 'Italian'. Thus, Don Darcy was the name John used from 1935-45, and he recorded as Johnny Darcy from 1946-1950. He was sometimes listed as Don D'Arcy. Major Bowes, impressed by young Don when he refused to perform on his amateur show and asserted and demonstrated his professionalism, gave him three sustaining (non sponsored) 15 minute spots a week, broadcasting on WHN. Darcy was then offered the same spots, thirty minute shows, on WOR in New Jersey, where he performed from c.1935-36. During this time Darcy developed a loyal fan base of regional listeners, received fan mail and other offers, and learned about the subject of 'payola' first hand.

After leaving WOR, and after refusing an offer to broadcast nationally on CBS radio, Darcy desired to go on the road and learn the band business. For the next several years Darcy was the male vocalist for Joe Venuti's Orchestra c.1936-40, after having worked with Charlie Barnet, 1934, Lud Gluskin, 1935, Louis 'King' Garcia, 1936, and others. With the Venuti Orchestra, among many engagements playing the largest hotels and ballrooms in the country, Darcy opened the show for several months at Billy Rose's 'Casa Manana' extravaganza in Fort Worth, Texas in 1936 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Texas' statehood. Both Paul Whiteman and Joe Venuti's bands shared the stage for this event. Darcy performed the same function at Rose's Cleveland Aquacade the following year. Contrary to what has been previously written, the only association he had with Rhode Island was any number of one nighters with the various bands he performed with over the next several years, i.e., Dick Gasparre, 1940, Joe Marsala, 1941-42, Sonny Dunham, 1943-44, Boyd Raeburn, 1944-45, Art Mooney, 1946, and Johnny Bothwell in 1947-48. He recorded on various labels with these bands, such as Hit, Guild, Grand, Signature and Century Records. Darcy also recorded on American and Langworth Transcriptions. He was never known as 'The Rhode Island Big Band Belter'. Nor did he ever perform as a 'lounge singer'.

Capitol Records

In 1952 Darcy reverted to his original birth name of John Arcesi when he signed with Capitol Records, after being heard on late night weekend broadcasts on KNX-LA with just voice and piano. Alan Livingston was President of the label at that time, and Lee Gillette, head of A&R. John recorded nine singles, with Lloyd Shafer conducting the arrangements. His first single with Capitol was entitled "Wild Honey" for which he received very positive reviews. Arcesi also received positive reviews in Variety for his live performance work at the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas in October of 1952, before the notoriety of the incident written of below. Following his engagement in Las Vegas, he appeared in New York City at the French Casino, and then followed with a stint at the Boulevard Cafe in Queens. He received positive reviews at these locales as well for his live stage work. In March of 1953 Arcesi recorded four sides with Nelson Riddle, who arranged and conducted the date. The titles for this recording date: "Tombstone", "Cowpo", "Rockin' the Ark", and "Ol' Man River", the first three songs written by Arcesi. He was also voted third most promising 'new singer' by Billboard Magazine that year, following Al Martino and Steve Lawrence. His last public broadcasts with voice and solo guitar were on KABC-LA in 1959. These shows, broadcast on Saturday and Sunday nights were also heard over the AFRTS.

John's renown eventually spread as far as the West Coast where audiences in (among other places) Los Angeles and Las Vegas soon became enamored with the roguishly handsome star. An article in the December 1, 1952 issue of TIME Magazine expounds at length on a gimmick cooked up by the Arcesi's press agent, Ed Scofield, whereby the mere sound of his voice could send impressionable young women into a trance upon hearing the song "Lost In Your Love". The interview from CBS-TV on a show called "Everywhere I Go" hosted by Dan Seymour in 1952 reveals that Mr. Arcesi had nothing to do with or knowledge of the stunt that was enacted, and despite this, it had a very negative effect on his reputation and career. This interview can be viewed on the website listed below.


Sadly, the fleeting nature of fame meant that Arcesi's notoriety passed almost as soon as it arrived and very little was subsequently heard from him for well over a decade. During these years however, using the name/alias Tony Conti as a producer and songwriter he developed and recorded other artists, most notably a group called 'The Bombers', an R&B vocal quartet. With this group he wrote and produced a 9 song LP called "Songs for Strange Lovers", released on Arcesi's own Orpheus Records label in 1955.

In 1971, following the death of his beloved wife the previous year, an album entitled Reachin' Arcesia was recorded in California and released by Alpha Records in a very small quantity. 300 copies were pressed and released in November 1972. A single from the LP, 'Reaching' b/w 'Pictures In My Window' was released in limited quantity in 1979 in Honolulu on the Orpheus-Alephia label, the current holders of the rights thereto. (The record was subsequently reissued without authorization in 1997 by the German label One Little Indian Records). The stark white cover of the original LP release (containing only the artist's name and album title) belied the decidedly unusual music inside. As one might expect, the leader of Arcesia was in fact the 54-year-old John Arcesi himself, who had spent the better part of the 1960s devoting himself to writing, painting, songwriting and occasional rare vocal appearances at benefits in Palm Springs, California. The co-producer and engineer on the record was Alexander Furth. Furth also produced the 1968 single of 'Love Is Like A Mountain'(Reaching) b/w 'It's All Accordin'. Also contrary to what has been previously written, Arcesi was not a user or advocate of LSD.

For the most part, the eleven songs on Reachin' Arcesia are highly emotive and passionate, with emphasis on fuzz guitar and organ. Lyrics are stream-of-consciousness musings on subjects such as life's struggle and redemption, ("Desiree"), the power of woman,("White Panther") and life's transience ("Butterfly Mind", "Soul Wings"). Although overlooked at the time of its original issue and derided in some corners upon its re-release, the album has now gained a degree of cachet, particularly amongst some fans of so-called outsider music . Arcesi himself was happy with the outcome of the recording, knowing that he had produced an original work that would take time to be understood for what it was, and still is. Several prominent radio DJs, including Irwin Chusid and Tony Coulter from WFMU (located in Hudson Valley, New York) have championed the LP - Chusid's 2000 book Songs in the Key of Z contains a brief blurb about Arcesia.


So far, music historians have been unable to reconcile these two strikingly different phases of John Arcesi's career, or to fill in the rather large gap in the above timeline. It is worth noting that, when one especially ardent fan, Paul Majors of World Parallel Records, finally managed to track down a few of Arcesi's relatives (who were by then running an antique shop and auction business in New York), they stated that their last contact with him was shortly after he moved to California in the early 1950s. Actually, after he recorded "Reachin' Arcesia" he visited with his family in Waverly, New York and Maryland in 1972, endowing them with copies of his final LP before returning to Palm Springs and then to Hawaii.

Arcesi lived in Honolulu from 1974-82 where he continued to write songs and essays, draw, paint and create in his spare time. He then spent the remaining months of his life in Palm Springs, California, where he had lived during the sixties with his wife of 21 years, the late Louise Marie DeLesseps Arcesi.


John died in Palm Springs, California on April 12, 1983 and the age of 66.

External links

Official website:


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