Making Music At Sunharbor

John Rutigliano
John Rutigliano

“I’m in my seventies and never dreamed I would be singing, let alone making a CD,” said John Rutigliano, a resident at Sunharbor Nursing Home in Roslyn Heights. “It’s not impossible. Reach out, ‘seniors,’ you never know!”

Those comments appear on Rutigliano’s CD, Nostalgia, a collection of the latter’s covers of classics by artists as different as Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Rutigliano, a native of Brooklyn, has been at Sunharbor for three years and inspired by Shannon Rae, an entertainer who works at Sunharbor, he has found a new career. Rutigliano isn’t the only singer at Sunharbor who has recorded a CD.

His singing partner, Billy D’Avanzo, Jr., a Mineola native, has released Songs “In The Key Of Billy D,” which, like Nostalgia, contains familiar classics of the past several decades. D’Avanzo’s CD includes covers of songs by Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, Louis Armstrong, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and Charlie Daniels.

Recently, the two men sat down with The Roslyn News and talked about their unexpected, but thoroughly enjoyable, second careers. Rutigliano said that he has been playing and singing since he was eight years old, even though he could have never imagined cutting his own CD. D’Avanzo, who spent 25 years working for the Long Island Rail Road and 41 years on the Mineola Fire Department, has been singing since his high school days in that village. Now, both men sing together at Sunharbor, performing on a regular basis for patients and friends.

Michelle Fishel, the director of recreation at Sunharbor, said that the two perform sing-alongs two days a week, while also singing in the Glee Club and performing special requests at their appearances.

Billy D’Avanzo Jr.
Billy D’Avanzo Jr.

“Patients tell me, ‘all I want is for Billy to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me,” Fishel said. “John will sing one-on-one [to residents]. He will hold their hands and sing to them.”

All three agree that the music is a healing process. It’s therapeutic and a necessary creative outlet.

“Without music, it would be pretty tough,” said Rutigliano, who is also a veteran of the Korean War, where he served in the 11th Airborne Division.

Neither men could not say enough nice things about Shannon Rae, a Long Island resident and entertainer who, as noted, inspired both men to sing and eventually, record. In fact, on the CD notes for Nostalgia, Rutigliano writes: “In 2002, I met a singing sensation named Shannon Rae. We became friends and I was lucky enough to sing with her. Her voice gave me the chills and she made me sing way beyond my dreams.

She talked me into making this CD. She sings two songs with me, ‘Unforgettable’ and ‘Orange Colored Sky.’ Thank you, Shannon, for doing this and thanks for the great friendship we have and will always have.”

At Sunharbor, Rutigliano further praised Rae for having a “voice like Karen Carpenter.”

“When she performs, she has a way of taking people with her,” he added.

Rae related her own experiences with the two singers.

“Both men have a love of music,” she told The Roslyn News. “They have built such confidence with singing, as I’ve given them songs to sing, CDs with just the background music only, so they could practice singing lead vocals when I’m not there, and a ton of praise. Music is so very therapeutic, and I think it’s gotten them through a lot of pain and sadness.

“I told the guys, they need to record,” Rae continued. “They were overjoyed when I was able to get a recording engineer in the facility with a portable unit. Billy and John each recorded full-length albums of songs they are passionate about. We had a photo shoot for the cover as well. Both of these gentlemen have unique stories. They share the same passion, which is singing. They both chose 10 to 12 songs they love to sing, and recorded albums…They are both sweet, wonderful individuals.”

Nostalgia includes such standards as “It’s Impossible,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Always On My Mind,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Love Me Tender” and “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.” Songs In The Key Of Billy D features such favorites as “Summer Wind,” “What A Wonderful World,” “Summer Nights” and “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”

Residents and staff members at Sunharbor are thrilled to have these two fine singers around. And they would be the first to tell you that these two CDs are not to be missed.

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Joe Scotchie is the editor of both The Roslyn News and New Hyde Park Illustrated News. In 2009, he won a New York State Press Association award for a sports feature. Joseph Scotchie’s past publications include biographies of Thomas Wolfe and Richard Weaver and a comprehensive history of the city of Asheville, North Carolina.


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