Grammy-winning pianist and former Philly Pops conductor Peter Nero dies at 89

Philadelphia – Grammy Award-winning pianist Peter Nero, who interpreted pop songs in classical and jazz forms and was the conductor of Philly Pops for more than three decades, has died. Nero was 89 years old.

Nero died Thursday at a residential care home in Eustis, Florida, according to his daughter, Beverly Nero, according to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer. The service will be private.

From Cole Porter and George Gershwin to The Beatles and Bob Dylan, Nero colored his performances of pop songs with melodies from classical, swing, Broadway, blues and jazz. He often described his sound as “undefinable” and didn’t offend him when others called it “middle of the road”. (He once told a newspaper that he was “halfway through and doing great business.”)

Scouted by Philadelphia concert promoter Mo Septi, Nero formed the Philly Pops Orchestra in 1979, the year Arthur Fiedler died. Fiedler is credited with effectively inventing the modern pop orchestra in Boston, and Nero hoped to match his popularity.

“I want to take off my pants,” Nero said at the time.

Although Nero’s orchestra was not as prominent as in Boston, it was a regular sell-out crowd in Philadelphia, no doubt aided by Nero’s lively playing style and warm stage presence.

In his work as a performer and conductor, Nero frequently returned to Broadway tunes, Hollywood themes, and Gershwin, the subject of Philly Pops’ first concert. But he also immersed himself in the Motown catalogue, and even bands such as Procol Harum and his disco and albums devoted to 70s love songs.

In 1975, he lamented to The Washington Post: “I don’t think it’s possible to use a lot of the new songs that are coming out. I have some rock songs in my repertoire…but a lot of rock groups don’t sell their sound, they just It sells music, and when you take a song apart, there’s nothing you can do with it.”

He led the Philly Pops until 2013, when the orchestra decided they could no longer afford him, so he stepped down.

By his own admission, Nero had a difficult early career performing in New York and Las Vegas under the name Bernie Nerow. However, he got his breakthrough in his late 20s by playing on the New York club circuit.

It was Stan Gleeson who signed him to RCA, saw his star potential and had him renamed Peter Nero. A steady stream of his shows in the clubs of the early 1960s led to regular appearances on radio and television, and 20 of his RCA albums were released over the course of the decade.

Nero won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1961 and Best Performance by an Orchestra or Instrumentalist in 1962 for the record “The Colorful Peter Nero”.

Their 1963 album Hail the Conquering Nero peaked at #5 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. This included versions of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and “Mack the Knife”.

He also charted with a version of the song “Summer ’42 Theme” written by Michel Legrand for the 1971 film. Nero’s version peaked at number 21 on Billboard’s pop singles chart.

Nero also wrote the score for the 1963 Jane Fonda film Sunday in New York and appeared in the film.

Born Bernard Neelow in 1934, Nero was raised in Brooklyn. He began taking piano lessons at the age of seven, and by the age of eleven he is said to have memorized Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D major. He then won a scholarship to take classes at Juilliard, won several talent contests, and graduated from the University of Brooklyn.

When headlining, Nero hated setlists and chose songs on the fly. The idea of ​​mixing styles and genres carried over to Philly in his pops.

“My Philadelphia Pops program could start with ‘Meistersinger,’ then ‘Chariot of Fire,’ then Enesco’s Romanian Rhapsody, and then a TV theme,” Nero said in 1982 in New York. Told the Times. And the audience was buying it from the beginning. ” Grammy-winning pianist and former Philly Pops conductor Peter Nero dies at 89

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