When Tony DeFranco was a little boy in Ontario, Canada, he belonged to an instrumental quintet that was composed of his siblings. The family played throughout the area, with four-year-old Tony on maracas, brothers Nino and Benny on guitars, sister Merlina on drums, and sister Marisa on accordion and organ. The venues didn't vary much from regional television, weddings, and parades, and Tony DeFranco didn't entertain any notion of becoming the family act's lead singer. In fact, he didn't even want to sing. His mother changed his mind with a five-dollar bribe, and he consented to belt out "Hey Jude" on stage at a Toronto banquet. Following an enthusiastic response from the audience, the act incorporated singing into their sets and the DeFranco Family, with young Tony's alto at the forefront, was on its way.
On the heels of the DeFranco Family's growing popularity, a friend submitted a photo of them to Tiger Beat Magazine. Charles Laufer, publisher of the teen-oriented publication, thought he spotted a winner in the family's bright smiles and clean-cut looks. He brought them to California, financed photo shoots and a demo, and featured them prominently in Tiger Beat. Laufer brought the demo to 20th Century Records chief Russ Regan, who offered the DeFrancos a contract. Walt Meskell was brought on board as producer and undertook the job of preparing the youthful Tony DeFranco to record a debut album. With their youngest sibling leading the way, the DeFrancos scored big for their first time at bat in the summer of 1973 with "Heartbeat, It's a Lovebeat." Within a month, the family appeared on American Bandstand with Dick Clark, the first of an eventual total of nine appearances on the show. Sales of the single topped two million copies. Television spots followed on shows hosted by Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore, Sonny and Cher, and Jack Benny. Adolescent and prepubescent girls went crazy over the group, and over Tony DeFranco in particular. Merv Griffin's program, however, wasn't quite as caught up in the DeFranco frenzy. His producers asked the group to audition for a spot on the show, but the family declined and never made an appearance on Griffin's program.
With a barely teenaged Tony DeFranco still up front, the group put out "Abracadabra" the next year. Save the Last Dance for Me, their second album, launched the title track into the number 18 spot, with Tony and Benny singing harmony. It would mark their last appearance in the Top 40. Creative differences erupted between the family and label management. Before 1974 had passed, their recording career stalled, although in Japan their records still sold well. Record company chief Regan and publisher Laufer tried to keep the group afloat by billing it as Tony DeFranco with the DeFranco Family. The two men soon expressed their desire to make Tony DeFranco into a solo performer, but he refused and the family walked.
The group officially left the business in 1979, and all of the siblings made their homes in California. Tony DeFranco established DeFranco Entertainment. Benny DeFranco found work producing for Disney. Nino DeFranco established his own music store. The singing siblings reunited in 2000 for RetroFest, an annual gala held by Rhino Records. Around the same time, K-Tel put out an album of 20 of the family's tunes. ~ Linda Seida