Late Levittown songwriter inspires the next generation

emma-spies

Photo courtesy of the Danny DeGennaro foundation – Emma Spies, a student at BCCC Perkasie campus, is this year’s winner of this year’s scholarship in honor of late musician Danny DeGennaro.

For the past year or so, some young musicians in Bucks have been helped by someone they’ll never get to thank — but they may have seen him around campus.

A life-size sculpture of Danny DeGennaro resides at the Bucks County Community College’s main campus in Newtown. The likeness is uncanny. His Martin acoustic guitar, boots, sunglasses and other items are bronzed to complete the look. He even sits on the same rock he used to strum his guitar on in the woods of the Thornridge section of Levittown.

The sculpture is a symbol of the Danny DeGennaro Foundation’s presence on the campus. Last fall, the organization held its first ever Creative Inspiration concert there in honor of the late Levittown musician.

Musicians from the community college, Danny’s friends and other locals got together and played music to remember DeGennaro. It’s centered on a scholarship, given out annually by the foundation, to a musician who attends Bucks Community College. The event raised $16,500 for student scholarships.

Last year, Jeremiah Snyder received the scholarship. The first-ever recipient played DeGennaro’s “The Time Is Right,” for the crowd, backed by a band supplied by the foundation. To all involved, including DeGennaro’s family, it couldn’t have gone to a better person.

This year, they feel the same with Emma Spies, a 19-year-old communications student from Kintnersville who studies at the Perkasie campus. The guitarist and songwriter will be playing DeGennaro’s song “Fire in my Heart” as well as some of her originals at the second Creative Inspiration Concert on Oct. 22. She received a $500 scholarship, some studio recording time and a professional band to back her up at the concert from the foundation.

“It gave me a taste of what professional musicians do,” Spies said.

She never knew DeGennaro’s music before she heard about the scholarship, but she became acquainted quickly.

“I liked his style,” she said. “I learned a lot from Gary, Danny’s brother, and his friends reminiscing about him.”

Spies learned about his time in the national spotlight as a guitarist in Kingfish, a Bay Area rock band tied to members of the Grateful Dead. She learned about how he recorded with Clarence Clemons, the famed saxophone player from the E Street Band, how he toured with the Billy Squier Band.

She may have also learned of his tragic death. In 2011, DeGennaro was shot and killed in a botched robbery attempt at his home on Crabtree Drive in Bristol Township.

With this concert and the foundation, he’s remembered for the positive things in his life, which included mentoring younger musicians.

The foundation also helped out Alexa Korogodsky, a 22-year-old graduate of the music program at Bucks’ Newtown Campus.

She, along with her band The Walldos, were funded for a session at Sonlight Productions studios in Perkasie, where they recorded an original song called “Take A Chance on Me.” The band was discovered by the foundation while playing a concert put on by Radio Bux, the college’s radio station.

“One of the people who was working the tent heard me singing and told someone,” Korogodsky said. “It just kind of went from there.”

The foundation also helped them get some shows, including one at John and Peter’s in New Hope. They’ll be playing this year’s Creative Inspiration concert as well.

The band was originally put together for one show, and Korogodsky said the foundation deserves a lot of credit for keeping them together.

“Somebody showed interest so we kept trying,” she said. “If that didn’t happen, we would have gone our separate ways.”

Linda DeGennaro, Danny’s sister, said when she sees these young musicians playing their own music, she thinks about her brother.

“It seems like they had met him along the way,” she said. “I see his style of music and the way he performed in these kids.”

Last month, she went to a concert at the Langhorne Coffee House, where Spies was playing. It was her first time hearing her music — the college handles the interview process for the scholarship and the foundation is run mostly by Ed Nero, DeGennaro’s longtime friend. Nero keeps her in the loop about all decisions made and asks her opinions about things he wants to do with the foundation.

“She had great songs. I didn’t even realize how old she was,” DeGennaro said of Spies. “To create songs like that at such a young age, it’s comforting to know that young artists are still doing that.”

They become fans of her brother, too. When she sees young musicians talk about Danny and playing his songs, it feels personal for her.

“It’s like they knew him,” DeGennaro said. “They never met him or heard his music live, but now they know the man behind the statue.”
The Danny DeGennaro Foundation’s Second Annual Creative Inspiration Concert will take place on Oct. 22 at the Zlock Performing Center at the Bucks County Community College, 275 Swamp Road in Newtown, at 7 p.m. Tickets are available either at the Langhorne Coffee Shop or online at dannydegennaro.ticketleap.com/creativeinspiration.

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