|01-27-2011, 11:21 PM|
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Tony DiPardo dies at 98, ending decades as Chiefs’ most visible fan
Tony DiPardo dies at 98, ending decades as Chiefs’ most visible fan
By ROBERT TRUSSELL and JAMES HART
The Kansas City Star
The names and faces at Arrowhead Stadium change on a regular basis, but for almost 45 years, bandleader Tony DiPardo — the Chiefs’ most-visible booster — was a constant.
Through good seasons and bad, the boisterous showman did his best to charge up the crowds by blowing on his horn. DiPardo died Thursday at age 98, his family said.
He was a trumpeter and swing-era veteran who became a successful conductor of hotel and society bands here beginning in the 1940s. He later formed a booking agency through which he hired musicians — many of them skilled jazz players — for a wide variety of engagements and fielded numerous bands simultaneously under the DiPardo name.
“Daddy loved life, his family and his family of friends,” daughter Patti DiPardo-Livergood said in a written statement. “He loved the Chiefs, music, and he never met a stranger. He loved everybody he met, and it seems everybody loved TD.”
A public viewing will be from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Mount Moriah & Freeman Funeral Home, 10507 Holmes Road in Kansas City. A private service and burial is planned for the following day.
The man who often called himself “Mr. Music of Kansas City” was known as a tireless promoter and a shrewd businessman who built a reputation as one of the city’s most ubiquitous bandleaders.
But DiPardo always considered his 20-year run as the Chiefs music director a special chapter in his career.
“It was great,” he said once. “It was one of the highlights of my life in music, being the bandleader for the Chiefs for 20 years. And I miss it.”
Indeed, DiPardo was so dedicated to the Chiefs that he was virtually a member of the team. He proudly wore a Super Bowl ring from the team’s only world championship in 1970.
“Tony DiPardo helped bring game day at Arrowhead to life,” said Clark Hunt, the Chiefs’ chairman of the board and son of team founder Lamar Hunt. “Whether it was leading the Pack Band, rallying the fans on road trips or just being an ambassador for the team, Tony was truly a part of the Chiefs family. He was someone my father respected and loved very much, and he will be missed.”
Norma Hunt, Lamar Hunt’s widow, called DiPardo’s passing “a very sad day for our family. Tony’s kind heart and sweet spirit brought joy to so many lives, and Lamar and I were blessed to share many fun times with Tony and Doddie over the years.”
DiPardo began providing live music for Chiefs games in 1963, when the team played at old Municipal Stadium and games were not well attended. He often donned a war bonnet and rode Warpaint, the Chiefs’ mascot, around the stadium.
“I think we were all hoping he wouldn’t fall off and hurt himself,” said Chiefs broadcaster Bill Grigsby.
“Sometimes he could be too much of a fan,” said former Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson. “I remember being in the huddle and I was trying to call a play and he’d start up that ‘Charge!’ cheer with his trumpet. I used to tell Hank Stram, ‘Hey, can you get Tony to do that charge thing when the other team’s in the huddle?’ Do it when John Hadl’s trying to call a play.”
DiPardo stepped aside in 1983, when the organization decided to take the music in a different direction. But the team brought DiPardo back in 1989, the year his daughter became the band director.
The sight of DiPardo blowing his red lacquer trumpet to “Charge” reminded fans of the glory days of the Chiefs and their only Super Bowl win.
DiPardo grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood in St. Louis, where he began cornet lessons when he was 9. His professional career began when he was 14 or 15 in St. Louis nightclubs.
During the 1930s he toured with the Irving Rose Orchestra and the Joe Reichman Orchestra before forming his own band in 1939. He met Doddie when he hired her to be the band’s singer. She was 12 years younger than DiPardo, but they fell in love and were married in 1942.
“We were good hotel bands is really what we were,” DiPardo once said. “We’d work 50 weeks out of the year.”
Eventually the DiPardos grew weary of life on the road. They got their chance to settle in Kansas City in 1950 when DiPardo’s band was booked for a three-month gig at Eddy’s, an upscale supper club at 13th Street and Baltimore Avenue. It turned into a 10-year engagement.
After DiPardo began his booking agency, he became one of the biggest employers of musicians in Kansas City.
“Tony got a lot of work,” said trombonist Arch Martin. “He really did. It wasn’t uncommon for him to have two or three bands working the same night. Sometimes he would just make an appearance and then go on to the next band.”
Over the years, DiPardo employed a “tremendous” number of musicians, said Tim Whitmer, a local bandleader who worked with him. DiPardo inspired performers to look and play their best, he said.
“He was the pro’s pro,” Whitmer said. “He always held up the standard of the musician being first class.”
Jazz historian Chuck Haddix, director of the Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said DiPardo released only a handful of records during his career. The earliest were in the ’40s when he recorded for the Premiere label in St. Louis. Cuts included “Daddy’s Got Woo Woo In His Eyes,” “Dark Eyes” and “Southern Comfort.”
Few musicians enjoy careers that were as long as DiPardo’s, Haddix said. DiPardo’s enthusiasm and warm personality were a big reason why he was able to keep booking performances over the years.
“He was a really good bandleader who kept his big band together when a lot of others fell apart,” Haddix said.
Years later, DiPardo wrote and recorded novelty tunes for the Chiefs, including “The Chiefs Are on the Warpath” and “The Hank Stram Polka.” At the Chiefs’ final 2006 home game, DiPardo performed taps in tribute to Lamar Hunt, who died in December of that year.
Some of the musicians who worked with DiPardo said he didn’t really know much about football when he accepted the job of band director for the Chiefs in 1963. There were times in the early days when he might play “Charge!” when the opposing team had the ball.
However, Dawson said in most cases DiPardo made a big difference to team morale.
“I can remember us having those West Coast games . . . and we would be coming back from San Diego or Oakland and we’d be on those prop planes and we’d get in about 3 a.m.,” Dawson said. “Every time we did, there was Tony at the airport to greet us, with his trumpet in his hand. I think we all thought that was amazing. He was such a great fan.”
Grigsby summed it up simply: “I know this: He’ll be missed. He was a man full of energy and enthusiasm.”
“Daddy loved to pray,” his daughter’s statement said. “And right now, I have to believe that he’s on his way to heaven, and Lamar and Hank and Derrick and Buck and just so many more friends and family are welcoming him and making plans for their own Super Bowl party.”