PHOTO: The Don Accurso Orchestra is shown here in 1957, ten years after its founding, with Accurso on the right.
The Don Accurso Orchestra has been performing for 72 years
By John Sharp
Photos courtesy Norine Accurso
There may be some bands and orchestras that have kept playing longer than south Kansas City’s Don Accurso Orchestra, but if there are they are few and far between.
The group was started with 15 members in April of 1947 by Accurso who led it and played piano after he came home in the summer of 1946 from serving in the Navy during World War II, and it is continuing to this day over 72 years later even though he died in October 2018 at age 92.
The band now includes six musicians and a vocalist and features swing music from the big band era of the 1930s and 40s but also plays more modern tunes ranging from jazz to light rock and from Latin tunes to popular tunes.
“People like hearing the songs they grew up with, but they respond well to newer tunes as well. Many audiences seem to like newer up tempo tunes even more. A lot of times people get up to dance,” said Bob Baldwin, a saxophone player who started substituting with the band for other players about 40 years ago and has been a regular for about five years.
The band now plays primarily at retirement communities such as Brookdale Wornall Place, and Walt Brown, a trumpet player who has been with the band for three seasons, said the band plays music that was part of people’s lives and lets them relive some memories.
“It’s great to see people’s faces light up when we begin to play and see their toes start tapping. It gives them a little taste of being young again,” Brown said.
Both Baldwin and Brown commented on how well Accurso interacted with audiences and his warm and friendly demeanor.
Brown said lots of people come up and talk to band members at performances and chat about Accurso and reminisce about earlier performances they attended.
“Even after his passing,” Baldwin said, “people will come up and tell band members they’ve been listening to Don for 50 years and just love him”
Norine Accurso, his widow and a former longtime member of the Center School District Board of Education, was married to him for 71 years. She said the couple met in 1946 and they never got to go out to any New Year’s Eve events as a couple after that year since his band was always playing at such events.
“I got to host a lot of New Year’s Eve parties for our daughters and their friends,” she said.
Current regulars in the band besides Baldwin and Brown include Dick Blessing on base, Steve Dekker on trombone, Jerry Pollock on drums and Leslie Pollock on piano, with Paula McLaughlin as the vocalist. Alternates are Paul Smith on piano and Jay Sollenberger on trumpet.
The band will continue performing at least through the rest of this year and is already booked for New Year’s Eve. Persons interested in booking a performance may call 913-239-9951.