Maria DeSantis with Father Mario DeSantis

The DeSantis Orchestra began as a nine-piece on May 22, 1947, when the group performed at Central High School’s Lincoln Auditorium. Over th e years, the group has grown to include a rotating roster of about 50 union musicians who perform in various types of groups—duos, trios, nine-piece, 12-piece, 18-piece—depending on the function they’re playing. The orchestra, which joined Local 78 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) in 1949, tends to split at about 20 percent community events, 40 percent weddings and 40 percent other events including induction ceremonies, union gatherings and benefits.

Over the years, the orchestra has played such prestigious events as Hillary Clinton’s fundraiser reception for Dan Maffei’s second run for Congress in August 2008, the Governor’s Tourism Conference Dinner/Dance in various cities throughout the state in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and the 1993 wedding of the Baldwin brothers’ sister, Jane Baldwin, to Randy Sasso. They have managed to attract some of the most talented musicians in the region who have kept the lineup at a consistently impressive caliber.

Mario DeSantis has serenaded countless just-marrieds, celebrated the induction of Cal Ripken Jr. into the Baseball Hall of Fame, served as a one-term mayor of Solvay, tickled the ivories as “The Magic Piano” for more than 20 years on the local children’s TV series Magic Toy Shop and raised five children with his wife of 59 years, Anita. Despite all that, the keyboard player and longtime bandleader is perhaps best known for the musical legacy he continues to leave Syracuse in the form of the DeSantis Orchestra.

Maria DeSantis, Mario's eldest child, took the reins of the band of renown and it's obvious she learned well as an apprentice to her father. Her influence has been pivotal to what the orchestra is today. She’s worked to incorporate a youthful edge, bringing in more contemporary music, funk, rhythm’n’blues and client-picked songs. Family is also her primary focus. She exudes energy and excitement for what the group does and her undisguised adoration of the band is endearing. Mario DeSantis continues to perform alongside the various incarnations of the DeSantis Orchestra, and helps Maria run the business, even though she officially bought the business 20 years ago.

The orchestra members’ ability to be flexible and perform between small groups to a full orchestra, depending on the event, is key. At times, Maria will send out only a pianist and singer, while at others, a group of 15. Sometimes, she’ll send both.

Their summer schedule will find them busy, playing events including the Finger Lakes Festival on June 24, a Solvay Geddes concert on June 28 and, interestingly, a concert commemorating the 65th anniversary of Armory Square on Aug. 11. The orchestra also performs annual concerts including the summertime Candlelight Series in Armory Square and a Christmas-themed show each December. See the full schedule here.

Adapted from the cover story "Father Knows Best" written by Jessica Novak and published as the cover story in The Syracuse New Times May 15th 2012 edition. Click here to read the story in it's entirety.

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