When The Duprees put on their show at Bayonne High School on Oct. 29, it won’t be the first time the ’60s-era singing group appeared in Bayonne or most likely the last. But for Duprees member Tony Testa, the show varies so much from performance to performance, each performance is unique.
“We cover all the hits, but we do a lot more,” he said during a recent telephone interview, talking about what the public might expect in the upcoming show.
“One of the main features, the way we perform, no matter what the venue, is that we never script a show, for the band or other members,” he said. “We set up the first two or three songs, and then through a series of signals, I tell the others what songs to do next.”
“What we’ll do in Bayonne is going to be interesting, but it will have a different temperament from what we did there last time.” – Tony Testa
“We also try to get the audience involved, and it makes everything interesting, as well as keeps the rest of us on our toes.”
The Duprees are being sponsored by the Bayonne Education Foundation for a live concert on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Bayonne High School Alexander X. O’ Connor Auditorium.
The five founding members of the singing group were all originally from the Marion section of Jersey City. They met while attending Dickinson High School, and began singing on the streets of Jersey City.
The Duprees were discovered by George Paxton of Coed Records, who was also a former Big Band leader. Impressed with their smooth vocal quality, he had them record Jo Stafford’s 1950s ballad “You Belong to Me” with big band arrangements.
This became their signature, taking songs that were hits in the 1940s and 1950s, and shaping them into the doo-wop form, always with a big band backing.
“That’s part of the original sound,” Testa said. “This made The Duprees distinctive from others at the time.”
The group dominated the charts in the early 1960s with “You Belong to Me,” “My Own True Love,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Take Me As I Am ,” “Why Don’t You Believe Me,” “Have You Heard,” “Love Eyes,” “It’s No Sin,” and “The Sand and the Sea.” The Duprees continued to succeed even after The Beatles and other British groups chased other doo wop groups off the charts. They continued with hits like “It Isn’t Fair,” “Let Them Talk” and “Exodus.”
The band had hits until 1969, after which they went out of fashion for a time. But the group returned to popularity, partly because they already bridged generations.
While Testa is not one of the original founding members – nor are any of the existing four members – he and the current members have ties to the original group.
“I was a member of the band that backed the original members,” he said.
This is a working band that performs 75 to 100 shows a year throughout the country, growing more in demand as time passes.
In these shows, The Duprees reprise their original hits, but also give renditions of more contemporary tunes. Some tunes could include period pieces such as the classic Bobby Darin version of “Mack the Knife,” or tunes by Lionel Ritchie.
Testa said Bayonne people have traditionally been a wonderful audience.
“What we’ll do in Bayonne is going to be interesting, but it will have a different temperament from what we did there last time. I’m sure we will be performing for a lot of the same people,” he said.
Although different each time, the group has about a half dozen tunes that are specifically designed for the live shows, as well as songs that are generated out of the continuing collection of CDs the bands issues.
“We, of course, do the hits,” he said. “But we have a slew of other songs to choose from. We just put together Bobby Darin’s ‘Beyond the Sea,’ which is challenging because it is a group vocal and requires an ensemble approach. We sing the instrumental parts.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, call (201) 859-0477 or visit the BEF Web site at www.bayonneeducationfoundation.org and click on “Events.”
Proceeds are used by the Bayonne Educational Foundation to support local school programs.