John Serry, Sr. - Biography


Born Giovanni Serrapica in Brooklyn, New York to Italian-American parents Pasquale Serrapica and Anna Balestrieri of Castellammare di Stabia, Italy, Serry pursued an artistic career which spanned seven decades. As an exponent of Latin American music and the free-bass accordion, he attained recognition through live radio and television performances on the CBS radio and television networks which were broadcast throughout the United States. He acquired additional recognition as the featured piano accordion soloist on the radio music program Viva America, which was broadcast live to South America under the United States Department of State's Office for Inter-American Affairs' (OCIAA) cultural initiative for Voice of America during World War II.

As a member of the CBS Pan American Orchestra (1940–1949) and the Columbia Concert Orchestra (1940–1949), Serry achieved success as a professional concert accordionist and featured soloist thereby helping to gain recognition for his instrument on the concert stage. Several of his broadcasts with the CBS Orchestra (1949–1960) on the CBS network are available to researchers and members of the general public as part of the permanent archive collection of The Paley Center for Media in New York. His professional studies were pursued with the 20th century composer and music educator Robert Strassburg (1915–2003) (who had studied with Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith) and the theater organist Arthur Guttow (who was featured at the keyboard of the Mighty Wurlitzer in the Radio City Music Hall).

Through his concert engagements over a forty year period, Serry performed within a wide ranging spectrum of orchestral ensembles including: Big Band jazz orchestras (see The 1930s below), classical concert orchestras. (See The 1940s and the 1960s below), network radio and television orchestras (see The 1940s and the 1950s below) and Broadway Theater orchestras. (See The 1950s and the 1960s below). In the process, he demonstrated the accordion's flexibility as an orchestral instrument at such concert venues as the: Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center (1935); the Starlight Roof at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (1936–1937), Radio City Music Hall (1935); the Palmer House in Chicago (1938); the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California (1938); Carnegie Hall with Alfredo Antonini conducting (1946); the Plaza Hotel (1940s); Town Hall (1941–1942); the Ed Sullivan Theater (1959) for CBS television (see below); the Empire Theater (New York) (1953); the 54th Street Theater(1965); the Majestic Theatre (1968); The Broadway Theatre (1968); the Imperial Theater (1968); the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (1968); and such New York society nightspots as El Morocco, El Chico and The Riviera in the 1930s. (See Biography below).

Serry augmented his accordion work as an organist later in life. He held a thirty-five year tenure performing as a free-lance organist at the Interfaith Chapel on the Long Island University C. W. Post Campus in Brookville, New York where he specialized as both a performer and composer of interfaith liturgical music and classical music. (See The 1970s–2002 below).

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