Singer Dion DiMucci, better known simply as Dion, epitomized the indigenous music of the Bronx streets where he was raised. In 1957, he teamed with three neighborhood pals Fred Milano, Angelo D’Aleo and Carlo Mastrangelo to form a vocal group that earned a reputation as the best street corner singers for miles. Dion and the Belmonts (named for Belmont Avenue, in the Bronx) perfected four-part harmonies while falling under the spell of rock and roll. The quartet combined the doo-wop sound of their home turf with a raft of rock and roll and R&B influences that included Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. With the encouragement of Dion’s parents, the budding singer got signed to the New York-based Mohawk label (later Laurie Records) and was initially groomed as a solo singer. Soon after his debut single, “The Chosen Few,” Dion brought the Belmonts on board. In early 1958, Dion and the Belmonts recorded their first Top 40 hit, “I Wonder Why.” A year later, they cracked the Top 10 with “A Teenager in Love,” written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. That winter, as the single moved up the charts, Dion and the Belmonts joined the Winter Dance Party, a package tour. Because he balked at paying the $35 it would have cost him, Dion declined an invitation to fly on the chartered plane that went down on February 3, 1959, killing fellow musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson. Dion and the Belmonts scored their biggest hit, “Where or When,” in 1960, but the group found itself being steered in a polished, adult-pop direction, so Dion left to reclaim his rock and roll roots. In 1961, he hit upon a loose, swaggering style that he could call his own with the songs “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer.” At this time, Dion was nearly alone among all the “teen idols” in attempting to equal the sultry charge that Elvis Presley had brought to rock and roll. Other hits in the same swinging, spontaneous vein followed: “Lovers Who Wander,” “Little Diane,” “Ruby Baby” and “Donna the Prima Donna.”
Dion’s star subsequently dimmed in the wake of the British Invasion and some personal setbacks that included a struggle with drug addiction. However, he re-emerged in 1968 with a more introspective, folk-based style that earned him his 11th Top 10 song, a thoughtful ode to slain martyrs entitled “Abraham, Martin and John.” In 1973, he reunited with the Belmonts for a concert at Madison Square Garden that resulted in a well-received live album, Reunion. Subsequently, the ever-versatile Dion added Christian music to a stylistic canon that includes folk, doo-wop, rhythm & blues, and rock and roll.