Peter Nero, a Grammy-winning pianist who led the Philly Pops for more than three decades and interpreted popular music in jazz and classical styles, has passed away. Age 89 was Nero.
According to his daughter Beverly Nero, Nero passed away on Thursday, July 6, at the Home Care Assisted Living Facility in Eustis, Florida, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The services will be discreet.
Nero infused classical, swing, Broadway, blues, and jazz melodies into his arrangements of popular songs by artists including Cole Porter, George Gershwin, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan. He frequently referred to his sound as “undefinable” and took exception when people dubbed it “middle of the road.” (He once stated in an interview with a newspaper, “Middle of the road and doing great business.”)
Nero founded the Philly Pops orchestra in 1979, the year Arthur Fiedler passed away, after being hired by Philadelphia concert promoter Moe Septee. Nero sought to compete Fiedler’s popularity, who is known for practically establishing the contemporary pops orchestra in Boston.
Nero said at the time, “I’d like to beat the pants off them.”
Although Nero’s orchestra wasn’t as well-known as Boston’s, it frequently sold out venues in Philadelphia, no doubt thanks to his vivacious playing style and approachable stage demeanour.
Nero frequently returned to Broadway tunes, Hollywood themes, and Gershwin, the topic of the inaugural Philly Pops concert, in his career as a performer and conductor. However, he also explored other musical genres, including Procol Harum, the back catalogue of Motown, and an album of disco and ’70s love ballads.
In 1975, he shared his thought to The Washington Post: “I find it impossible to use a lot of the new material that’s coming out.” He added, “There is some rock material in my repertoire … but a lot of rock groups are selling a sound, not music. You take the tune apart and there’s nothing there to work with.”
Grammy Awards were given to Nero in 1961 for best new artist and in 1962 for outstanding performance by an orchestra or instrumentalist for his album “The Colourful Peter Nero.”
Hail the Conquering Nero, a 1963 album, reached its highest position on the Billboard pop album chart at No. 5. There were renditions of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and “Mack the Knife.”
The song “Theme from ‘The Summer of ’42,'” composed by Michel Legrand for the 1971 film, was also one of his chart-topping songs. On the Billboard pop singles list, Nero’s rendition peaked at No. 21.
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