In a lot of ways, the appearance of The Duprees at the Bayonne Jewish Community Center on Oct. 23 will be like coming home.
The five founding members of the singing group were all originally from the Marion section of Jersey City. They met while attending Dickinson High School and began singing on the streets of Jersey City.
But Tony Testa – who, while not a founding member, has been with the group for about 25 years – said The Duprees differed from other classic street corner doo-wop groups of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Known for their smooth vocal quality, The Duprees made their first mark with Jo Stafford’s 1950s ballad “You Belong To Me” using a Big Band arrangement. This became their signature, taking songs that were hits in the 1940s and 1950s, and shaping them into the doo-wop form, always with a Big Band backing.
“That’s part of the original sound,” he said. “This made the Duprees distinctive from others at the time.”
“We have a very well-rounded show.” – Tony Testa
The band continued to have hits until 1969, after which they went out of fashion for a time.
But the group returned to popularity, partly because they already bridged generations.
While Testa is not one of the original founding members – nor are any of the existing four members – he and the current members have ties to the original group.
“I was a member of the band that backed the original members,” he said.
Still going strong
This is a working band that performs 75 to 100 shows a year throughout the country, growing more in demand as time passes.
Last year, The Duprees made several local performances, including one performance at the historic Loew’s Theater in Jersey City, as well as at the JCC in Bayonne.
“This is our third year at the Jewish Community Center in Bayonne,” Testa said.
In some ways, these shows are a kind of feel-good Rocky Horror Picture Show in that people get into the theme, dressing up in period clothing to capture a little of the innocence of the age.
In these shows, The Duprees reprise their original hits, but also give renditions of more contemporary tunes. Some tunes could include period pieces not done by the original Duprees, such as the classic Bobby Darin version of “Mack the Knife,” or tunes by Lionel Ritchie.
“We have a very well-rounded show,” Testa said. “We highlight the hits, but we also perform a lot of different material. One of the greatest comments we’ve received at our shows is that people who come a number of times are always surprised. We have a special relationship with our fans, and we make our shows for the particular time we are performing.”
Testa said the band draws young and old because it does not rely on nostalgia for its draw. He said the main appeal is the love songs, which are pretty much timeless, although many people come out for nostalgia of the music and the feeling The Duprees’ music recalls.
The length of the show varies from gig to gig, but fans can expect performances to be around 90 minutes. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $65. This includes hot and cold buffet, beer, wine, soda, deserts, coffee and tea. For more information, call (201) 436-6900.
“Bayonne is special,” Testa said, noting that the group has an outstanding relationship with the JCC. “They are very accommodating. They put out a good spread of food for the people and for us.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.