A ‘funky’ night
From now on, Aug. 11 is Rob Parissi Day in Mingo Junction.
The announcement at the Mingo Knights of Columbus Hall on Sunday was just one of many ways appreciation was shown for the Mingo native who made Mingo and the Ohio Valley proud as the founder of the band Wild Cherry and the author of the hit song “Play That Funky Music,” one of those tunes that puts you in a dance-happy, gotta-sing-along frame of mind.
From resolutions and remarks to proclamations and presentations, including a sign presented by friend Bobby Pizzoferrato that reads “Mingo Junction, home of Rob Parissi and hit song “Play That Funky Music,” Parissi was showered with affection and attention, including during the social hour when he was busy posing for photos and signing autographs in the company of his fiance, Ilona Bellamy.
But then Parissi was applauded just as much for being a grounded, down-to-Earth guy known to help others and to always remember his Jefferson County roots.
Organized by the Mingo Business Association, the dinner capped off a weekend of Mingo Junction Community Days festivities and had a head table of well wishers.
They included keynote speaker Terry Stewart, former president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum where Wild Cherry has a display; Frank Bovina, president of the Mingo Business Association and master of ceremonies; Francesca Carinci, part of the planning committee; Tim McCoy, general manager of WTOV; county Commissioner Tom Graham, who sang and was a proclamation presenter on behalf of Jefferson County; and Mingo Council President John “Wiz” Fabian, who recalled his mailman delivery days of being summoned into the Parissi home where Parissi’s proud father pointed to the platinum plaque of “Play That Funky Music” hanging on the kitchen wall.
Sarah Poulton, representing U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, also presented a proclamation and got some chuckles in the process as she mistakenly referred to Parissi’s group as “White Cherry,” something the Mingo audience was quick to correct.
The event also included a video put to music and offering through-the-years photos of Parissi, the handiwork of Tom Fitzgerald. Each place setting had a CD of Parissi’s jazz album “The Real Deal,” to take home as a souvenir of the evening.
I was a freshman in college when “Play That Funky Music” hit the No. 1 spot, and I can remember staying up to watch the band perform it on the Midnight Special, a memory McCoy mentioned during his speech that touched on how many celebrities the area has produced.
As I took one of the first photos of Parissi that evening, I reminded him that I had interviewed him in the early 1980s for a whatever-happened-to kind of story. After it ran, he very kindly sent a flower arrangement, but something got lost in the translation at the florist’s apparently. The card read: “Thanks – Wild Jerry.” It got a lot of laughs in the newsroom that day as I remember.
During the social hour, I chatted with Hopedale resident Nancy Richards, who told me that during the 1960s she had played with Parissi in a group called the Eighth Day.
And I got to meet the Spinning Jenny made up of John B. Balzano and daughters Julia, Talia and Angelina. They backup singers the night before when Parissa performed during Mingo Community Days entertainment, and US Kids was the backup band.
Among the many autograph seekers was 1968 Mingo High School classmate Christine Timcho Peterson, who said the two lived down the street from each other growing up. She brought a Wild Cherry LP for autographing.
During his time for comments, Parissi lamented how he misses his father, the late Tony Parissi. He said his dad had suggested he keep “white boy” out of the song’s lyrics, but later he would joke at the Grammy Awards how he was glad his son hadn’t listened.
“I want to again thank you all so very much for such an honor and everything that you have done,” an emotional Parissi said in expressing appreciation for the hometown celebration that includes McLister Avenue being assigned the honorary name of Rob Parissi Bouelvard.
The once-in-a-lifetime evening appropriately ended with music as Pizzoferrato joined with members of the Indian Creek Jazz Concert Band to perform what else but “Play That Funky Music.”