On the occasion of his 75th birthday, Philadelphia icon Frankie Avalon turns his gaze homeward.
Dick Clark (left) hosts South Philadelphia performers (from left) Fabian, Bobby Rydell, and Frankie Avalon on American Bandstand, the most popular dance show of all time, and where each of these teen idols got their start.
Even as the words “American Bandstand” recede from our cultural memory, the name “Frankie Avalon” can not. So large is the South Philadelphia native’s influence in entertainment that he is still selling out nightclubs around the country six months out of the year (and returning home to do it, with November shows scheduled in Bethlehem and Atlantic City). And so great is his reserve of energy that he continues to tour even as his 75th birthday approaches, on September 18.
A teen idol who rose to prominence in the 1950s and ’60s on Bandstand and the like, Avalon is probably most known as the artist behind the Grease theme song. And yet, like so many of the biggest music stars from that era, he quickly broke into films (with his Beach Party series). To date, he has amassed a résumé of some 30 movies, dozens of Billboard singles, and multiple guest-starring television roles, not to mention an induction, in 1995, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But he hasn’t forgotten where he comes from. As South Philly, long a bastion for the city’s Italian-American community, is poised for change and new development, Avalon, born Francis Thomas Avallone, is reinvesting into his old stomping grounds to ensure some of its legacy is preserved. In June, he made a sizable donation to the Mural Arts Program to save a decade-old mural titled South Philly Musicians, a collection of seven portraits, including those of Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Fabian, and Eddie Fisher, near Pat’s King of Steaks at Ninth and Passyunk. As a new development would soon block it from view, Avalon and other Philly music luminaries came together to finance its relocation to an as-yet undisclosed space on South Broad Street—a move that will keep one of South Philadelphia’s most cherished public artworks alive.