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Dion and the Belmonts singer Fred Milano, 72

Fred F. Milano, a founding member of doo-wop

Fred F. Milano, a founding member of doo-wop greats Dion and the Belmonts, died Jan. 1, 2012. Photo Credit: Handout

Everyone has a story. But doo-wop singer Fred Milano had a couple of great ones.

Like when his group, Dion and the Belmonts, played with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper the night they died in a plane crash. Or the time that the group played a sold-out Madison Square Garden concert.

Those stories will now live on with Milano's family and friends. The tenor, who lived in Massapequa, died Sunday at age 72 of respiratory distress. "He had a passion for life," said Lynn, his wife of more than 43 years. " 'I had a good run,' he told me last week."

Born Aug. 26, 1939, in the Bronx, Milano and friends Angelo D'Aleo and Carlo Mastrangelo were joined by neighborhood pal Dion DiMucci in 1957. Dion and the Belmonts -- named after Milano's street, Belmont Avenue -- had a hit soon after forming with "I Wonder Why," which charted on Billboard, as did many of the group's other singles, such as "No One Knows" and "A Teenager in Love."

Those hits led to tours with Bobby Darin and the Coasters -- and then the Winter Dance Party tour with Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson Jr.). Dion and the Belmonts shared the stage with the others on Feb. 2, 1959, at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa -- the last show for the ill-fated Holly and company.

"Freddie would always tell this story about Ritchie Valens," Milano's longtime friend and bandmate Warren Gradus said. "Valens, who was 16 or 17 at the time, would send his mother tapes. I don't know if they were made on Dictaphone or what, but he'd tell his mom what a great bunch of guys he was meeting, what good friends they were becoming."

Milano's wife was in the audience at the 1972 Dion and the Belmonts reunion at the Garden (Dion left the group in 1960 for his solo career, which would eventually land him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). "That was quite a magical night," she said from the couple's Massapequa home. "The lights came on at the end and the whole Garden was standing and clapping."

Beside his wife, Milano -- who most recently worked at Riker's Island as a legal coordinator in the law library there -- is survived by daughter Tara Lesak; son Cal Milano, and 10 grandchildren.

Visitation is Tuesday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Massapequa Funeral Home South Chapel, 4980 Merrick Rd., Massapequa Park. There will be a prayer service at the funeral home chapel at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

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