Honorary Director of the 1995 Cotati Accordion Festival
The Early Years
Dick Contino was born of Italian parentage on January 17,1930, in Fresno, California. He attended Fresno High and played fullback on the football team until his father found out and forced him to stop. As another activity, Dick played his accordion in the school assemblies and at special functions. His accordion playing popularized him so well that he easily won the class presidency at election time. Dick's father played the accordion and it was he who gave Dick his first instructions. Later, Dick traveled to San Francisco every Friday for six years to take lessons.
After school and on weekends Dick worked as a delivery boy in his father's butcher shop, but he always had his accordion handy and would practice many hours each day, striving for perfection and waiting for the break that would carry him up the ladder of success to stardom. After-graduating from high school in 1947, Dick entered Fresno State to study an Arts course. However, Dick's first and last love was his accordion and music, so after the first semester he left college and went to work as a delivery boy in his father's butcher shop, devoting all his spare time to practice on the accordion.
Dick was interested in getting on a national broadcast and his ambition was to gain popularity and recognition as an accordion soloist and to make popular an instrument that had not been too successful in the entertainment world. But jobs were not easy to-find. His family decided finally that they would move to Los Angeles because they thought there were greater musical opportunities there for this gifted boy. Dick's mother sent him to the local musician's union to get his transfer to the Los Angeles local. Luck was with Dick Contino, the handsome, talented, unknown accordion player who thus far had been denied the opportunity to demonstrate his ability before the American public.
Horace Heidt, the master showman and an old friend of many years standing with audiences everywhere, was coming out of retirement to go back on the air with his "Original Youth Opportunity Program". The show was dedicated to bringing before the American people not only the finest in entertainment, but also to giving talented young people everywhere an opportunity to display their talents arid win recognition in their chosen fields. Horace felt the only way possible to achieve this would be to take his show to the people, so that those who could not leave the security of their homes to take a chance in Hollywood or New York, would have an equal opportunity to pass through the "door of opportunity". Instead of a typical Hollywood premier of his new show with much fanfare, Horace scheduled his first broadcast for a typical American city, Fresno, California. An advance-man was sent to
Fresno to search for talent to represent that cry and compete for fame and fortune with the American public acting as judge. When Dick Contino walked into the Fresno Musicians' Union to get his transfer to Los Angeles, one secretary of the union introduced him to Heidt's talent scout, who asked him to audition for him the following day. Dick was filled with such hope and excitement that he did not tell his folks about the audition, not wanting to build up their hopes and then have them become disappointed if his audition was not successful. The advance man was greatly impressed with Dick's ability, and arranged for him to audition for Horace Heidt. Horace was equally impressed, and at long last Dick's dream of appearing on a national broadcast came true when Horace selected him as one of four contestants to appear on the initial Phillip Morris broadcast to compete for the weekly prize of $250, the quarterly prize of $750 and the Grand prize of $5000.00 It was on the otherwise calm night of December 7, 1946 Dick made his appearance on the first Horace Heidt - Phillip Morris broadcast. Dick gave his rendition of "Lady of Spain" and the bobby-sox audience stomped, clapped, and yelled with frenzy, declaring him the winner by a margin of a full 30 points on the electric applause meter, thereby awarding him first prize of $250. Thirteen straight weeks of competition later with overpowering results on the applause meter from California to Broadway, Contino stood up to a microphone at Manhattan's radio station WNBC and slapped out "Bumble Boogie" romping away with the first Horace Heidt Quarter Finals and a prize of $750. He became a permanent member of the Musical Knights and toured theaters and auditoriums from coast to coast. He went on to win the 1948 GRAND FINALS and the first prize money of $5,000. With the Horace Heidt show as his launching pad, Dick went on to become the most famous accordionist in history.
Dick's Current Bio
Dick Contino, the legendary virtuoso of the accordion, is once again proving himself as one of the premier entertainers of our time. Dick stars in main showrooms from Las Vegas to Atlantic City and headlines many fairs and festivals throughout America. The California native who has become known as the "world's greatest accordionist," recently completed a national tour in which he broke house records from coast to coast. During his career, Dick has played virtually every major stage and television show. He has also starred in films and daytime television. What sets Dick apart is a combination of innovative musical styling and a personal philosophy developed through the experienced turmoil of early stardom and the vicissitudes of show business. He has attained an inner peace that makes him a delight to be near. Dick believes, I allow my life to consume my art, rather than let my art consume me." Famous for his distinctive playing technique, the bellow shake, he is able to coax out of the instrument a warmth bordering on passion. "I treat my audience like a living love relationship. I feed it and it feeds me." Contino is intimate. He presents himself with a feeling of moment to moment spontaneity . Although best known for his million sellers such as Lady of Spain, Granada and Tico Tico, he is equally at ease with current show material. Contino also surprises audiences with his fine vocal stylings. His popularity has only grown as every year thousands of new fans discover this artist's unique entertainment abilities. Able to completely captivate an audience of any size with his charm, great looks and technical virtuosity, Contino is nothing short of amazing
"THERE IS ONLY ONE DICK CONTINO!"
Dick's Credits & Accomplishments
GRAND PRIZE WINNER! HORACE HEIDT YOUTH OPPORTUNITY PROGRAM FINALS DECEMBER 7, 1948
12 ALBUMS ON MAJOR LABELS. SALES OF OVER 6 MILLION RECORDS. VIRTUALLY EVERY MAJOR SHOWROOM IN AMERICA. THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL.
STAR OF ED SULLIVAN'S TOUR TO THE SOVIET UNION.
TWO TOURS TO VIETNAM TO ENTERTAIN TROOPS. DODGER STADIUM (OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM).
RECORD NUMBER OF APPEARANCES ON THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW (48) . STAR OF JAMES ELLROY'S WORLD WIDE NOVEL "DICK CONTINO'S BLUES"
STAR OF G.Q. NATIONAL MAGAZINE 1994 AND NOVEMBER & DECEMBER 1997
" HOLLYWOOD SHAKEDOWN" BY JAMES ELLROY.
1998 AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS WORLD WIDE TELEVISION.