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The American Accordionists’ Association turns 80!!

Joan Grauman Morse, AAA HistorianIn March of 2018, the American Accordionists’ Association (AAA) will turn 80 years old. We hope to see all of you this summer in beautiful Alexandria, Virginia, where we will celebrate this special milestone! As the organization’s historian, I will be writing monthly articles on events that led up to the creation of the AAA, some of its influential members, as well as special events throughout the decades, and more.

Below is the second article.

Joan Grauman Morse, AAA Historian

Joseph Biviano and Charles Magnante – A Lifetime Commitment to the American Accordionists’ Association (AAA)

“The American Accordionists’ Association’s aims and accomplishments, if itemized, would fill volumes but, suffice it to say that, since its beginning, it has been dedicated not only towards building a position for the accordion and the accordionist in the family of music and musical instruments, but in helping to further the musical culture of the world.”
Pietro Deiro, Jr., 1962
1. (l to r) Charles Magnante and Joe Biviano
The AAA has been blessed with an abundance of hard-working, dedicated, enthusiastic Governing Board members through the decades. It has been the efforts of these selfless folks -- who recognized an obligation to their industry and to the world to maintain and encourage the continued growth of the accordion -- that has made our 80-year old organization a resounding success!

This article will focus on the efforts of two of the twelve founders of the AAA who, in addition to working full-time as musicians, composers and educators, dedicated their lives to the AAA. We salute these great men: Joe Biviano and Charles Magnante.

Joe Biviano (1908-1992)

2. Biviano with James Vassar, 1959
Joseph Biviano was a consummate musician and educator. As a founding member of the AAA, he immediately went to work writing articles and press releases for the organization, worked tirelessly to solidify standardization for the bass notation, worked through the years on various committees, created and chaired many programs, and was the AAA President for four terms.

Biviano was a staff musician with all of the major radio networks from the 1930s through the 1950s. He recorded on many major labels, and introduced the accordion to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. His accordion school in New York City was the hub for renowned accordionists in the area, and for those visiting. Biviano’s warmth, knowledge and willingness to share was infectious and his students thrived in this nurturing environment.

Renowned jazz accordionist and educator, Joe Cerrito, fondly recalls his studies with Biviano in 1953, just before he was sent to Korea. Biviano not only provided Joe with a lifelong desire to improve as an accordionist through hard work, but he also wrote letters to his young student when he was stationed in Korea. Joe Cerrito has never forgotten how much those letters meant to him!
3. Maddalena Belfiore receiving AAA Junior Soloist Award from Joe Biviano, 1941
In 1958, Joe Biviano organized the Accordion Symphony Society, a highly regarded accordion orchestra. The orchestra was scheduled to perform in Carnegie Hall in 1959. One of his successful former students, Dr. Carmelo Pino, brought his own student Jim Vassar to meet Biviano early in 1959. Jim was a teenager, and a very accomplished accordionist and pianist. Jim wrote his first composition, a little piece called “Cocktail Boogie”. He presented it to Biviano. What a tremendous surprise and honor for young Jim when Biviano announced, “I love it and will orchestrate it for my symphony orchestra and we will play it in Carnegie Hall”! He did just that, and Jim and his family came to New York for the performance! Jim, retired Chief of Examining Division of the US Copyright Office, has never forgotten that glorious moment!

While running a hugely successful accordion school, Biviano also toured the US promoting the accordion as a serious solo and ensemble instrument, and played before Heads of State in Europe and Asia, as well as at a command performance for President Lyndon Johnson at the White House.
4. Adjudicators for the 1960 AAA Finalist Contest
(l to r) - Mort Herold, Charles Magnante, Joe Biviano, Daniel Desiderio.
For decades, Biviano and his brother-in-law, Charles Magnante, adjudicated at AAA and area accordion competitions, composed music for the accordion and worked with Fred Gretsch, who built La Tosca Accordions, to design specific instruments for accordion orchestras (such as the cello accordion) and to standardize the registers on all accordions.

Charles Magnante (1905-1986)

5. The Four-Star Magnante Quartet (clockwise from bottom left) Charles Magnante, Joe Biviano, Gene von Hallberg, Abe Goldman - Carnegie Hall, New York, April 1939
By the time he was 14 years old, Charles Magnante was earning a living playing his accordion. He played in Italian restaurants in New York City and played regularly on the Staten Island Ferry. Soon, he was a respected featured accordionist on several radio broadcasts, including the popular, “Jack Berch Show”. When Magnante was twenty years old, Erno Rapee engaged him to play with the symphony orchestra on radio station WEAF, realizing another milestone in the progress of the accordion. This was the first time an accordion had been used in a symphony orchestra.

In 1931, at the age of 25, Magnante played in 31 broadcasts a week, both at the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and Columbia Networks – oh, and he always found time for his main hobby: big game hunting!
Early on, Charles Magnante had a dream. When he and eleven of his colleagues came together in March of 1938 to form the AAA, he spoke of this dream. He wanted to bring the piano accordion to Carnegie Hall! This would give the new instrument the prestige Magnante felt it deserved.

On April 18, 1939, one year after the founding of the AAA, his dream came to fruition! 3000 people came, in inclement weather, to hear the accordion in Carnegie Hall!! The stars were the Magnante Quartet: Charles Magnante, Joe Biviano, Gene von Hallberg and Abe Goldman – all founders of AAA. Then Magnante played a few solos, followed by duets with Joe Biviano. Then, more from the Quartet and from two brothers (students of Joe Biviano’s), Tony and Dominic Mecca.

The evening ended with the Quartet playing “Mardi Gras” by Ferde Grofé, Magnante’s beloved “Accordiana” and a medley of Gershwin tunes. The rousing standing ovation and the critics’ rave reviews were a huge shot in the arm for the versatile piano accordion!!
6. Rose-Marie Bruno (Coppola) receiving AAA
Junior Soloist Award from Charles Magnante, 1950
7. 1955 AAA US Virtuoso Champion, Louis Coppola, with his teacher,
Rudy Molinaro (left) and Charles Magnante (right)
Charles Magnante became one of the most recognized names on the air and on recordings. His flawless technique was an inspiration to all, and he recorded with many of the leading musicians in the US, including world-renowned pianist and composer, Dick Hyman. Magnante concertized and gave workshops on accordion technique throughout the country. AAA President Mary Tokarski recalls attending his workshops in her youth:
8. Joe Biviano with prize winners - Silver Spring, Maryland, 1970
“As a young accordionist, I attended many workshops by accordion “giant” Charles Magnante. I sat riveted to the beautiful music, quality technical and demonstrative educational skills. He was the consummate educator… not only did he perform at the highest quality of the time, he spent many hours working with others to show how he developed those abilities, and writing music to help achieve the skills. Those who followed his lead, became musicians and technicians of the highest quality. I continue to incorporate his style of education into my presentations and performances to this day!”
9. Charles Magnante with prize winners - Silver Spring, Maryland, 1970
In spite of his busy schedule, Magnante always found time for his beloved AAA. He was consistently on its Governing Board and, like Joe Biviano, was the AAA President for four terms. Whenever possible, Magnante adjudicated AAA competitions as well as competitions in the area’s accordion schools.
10. Joe Cerrito with Joe Biviano, 1989
These two men gave so much to the accordion and to the American Accordionists’ Association. In addition to everything mentioned above, both men composed test pieces for AAA competitions, created scholarship funds, wrote literature elevating the standards of teaching, and the list goes on. To this day, our organization still benefits from the heartfelt and tireless work of these great men. Thank you, Joe Biviano and Charles Magnante!!
11. Two founders of the AAA - Charles Nunzio and Joe Biviano, 1991
Note: articles written between 1935 and 1970 by Joe Biviano, Charles Magnante, Eugene Ettore, Pietro Deiro, Sr, Pietro Deiro, Jr. and Theresa Costello for the “Accordion World” and “Etude” magazines, as well as AAA’s annual journals will be posted on the AAA website in the next few months.

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