Link to Ford singing "Sixteen Tons" at the end of this story.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
The finger-snapping, pencil mustached, baritone singer known as Tennessee Ernie Ford provided entertainment for millions of fans worldwide beginning in the second half of the 20th Century. And even today he is a big draw to classic YouTube listeners. Ford’s performance of his most popular hit, “Sixteen Tons,” touched the hearts and souls of those of his generation.
While it is Ford’s face and voice associated with this classic song, it is the influence of a Northeast Missouri native that helped raise this tune to top selling status.
Jack Fascinato, born at Bevier, Mo., in 1915, was named musical director of “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show,” a new, half-hour musical variety show which debuted on Monday, April 2, 1962, on ABC-TV.
Airing week-day mornings, Ford needed some 30 songs per week to entertain his audience. As musical director, Fascinato shared responsibility for building up a library of potential music for the famous singer.
In June 1972, while Fascinato was in Kansas City with Ford for a two-week concert series at the Starlight Theater, Fascinato was interviewed by a reporter for a Kansas City Star newspaper.
He told the story of how Ford’s most popular song, “Sixteen Tons” was almost never recorded.
“One day somebody on the staff came up with that song, ‘Sixteen Tons.’ The minute Ernie would start that tune the hubbub in the studio would die down. Everybody – the cameramen and technicians included – would stop and listen, and everyone gave the number a great round of applause.”
Fascinato said “Sixteen Tons” got a tremendous response from the studio audience and that Ford and his staff wanted to record the song. But both Ford and Fascinato were under contract with Capitol Records, and record executives felt the song was supportive of communism.
“You know, that line about ‘I owe my soul to the company store.’ It wasn’t until we started receiving thousands of letters from fans who had seen Ernie perform the song on television and who wanted a copy of the record that the record company agreed to record it,” the newspaper reported in its June 22, 1972 edition.
Jack Fascinato earned a BA degree from Culver-Stockton College at Canton, where his father served as professor.
The 1932 yearbook for Culver-Stockton College at Canton offers this biography for Jack Fascinato, which illustrates his leadership potential: “Theta Kappa Nu; Mu Sigma; Band, president; orchestra, vice president; Glee Club, treasurer; managing editor of Megaphone, acting editor in chief second semester; Dramatic Club; Cast of ‘The Patsy.’”
The same yearbook offers his father’s musical portfolio: “Lorenzo Giacomo Fascinato, Instructor in band and orchestra music. Educated in Italy; Studied under Madalozzo, 1901-1903; Studied under Fiorese, 1903-1906; Member of Royal Regiment Band, under Bottoli, 1906-1909; Grand Opera Season with Perelli, 1909; Conductor Seymour Italian Band, 1910-11; Venetian Band, Chicago, 1912-1914; Shelbina (Mo.) Concert Band and High School Orchestra, 1914-1920; Instructor in Band and Orchestra Music, Culver-Stockton College, 1920-25; Director of Music in Public Schools, and Conductor of Municipal Band, Lancaster, Wis., 1925-1927; Instructor in band and orchestra music Culver-Stockton College 1927-“
Ties to Hannibal
The 1935 Hannibal city directory lists Arthur (Frank) Fascinato as supervisor of music for the Hannibal public schools, living at 1000 Center with his parents, Giacomo and Ella Fascinato, who were operating the Fascinato School of Music in the same location.
Hannibal area native, Jean Otten Moore, nonagernarian from Pennsylvania, remembers studying with Frank Fascinato as a ninth grade violin student at Central Junior High School. “Jack came to Hannibal with his father, mother and brother, Roger. Every Saturday night he had some of his pupils come and play as a small ensemble,” Jean said.
On Feb. 27, 1935, during Hannibal’s year-long celebration of the centennial of Mark Twain’s birth, Frank Fascinato was the orchestra director for the Mark Twain Jubilee Concert at the new Hannibal High School on McMaster’s Avenue. Helen Graves led the sixty-voice chorus before a full house, and Fascinato accompanied all of the soloists.
L.G. Fascinato, who was simultaneously band and orchestra instructor for Culver Stockton College and Canton High School, tendered his resignation in July 1935, announcing plans to move to Hannibal with his son, Jack, and to establish a music studio in Hannibal.
Jack Fascinato resigned from his post as instructor of instrumental music for the Hannibal public schools in June 1936. J.M. Dillinger of Chillicothe was chosen to succeed Fascinato.
Television on the horizon
When Jack Fascinato left Hannibal in 1936, radio offered a popular means of in-home entertainment and news dispersing. During his first decade after leaving Hannibal, Fascinato worked as a composer, conductor, pianist, arranger and songwriter. From 1943 to 1945, during his service during World War II, he arranged for the Navy Symphony in Washington, DC. He also composed, conducted and arranged music for a number of radio commercials, and worked with dance bands across the country.
Then, in 1947, he associated with the new, live televised puppet show based in Chicago, “Kukla, Fran and Ollie.”
Jack Fascinato wrote and performed the series’ music. At first he accompanied the puppet troupe on piano, and later conducted the show’s small orchestra. He was associated with the puppet show for eight years.
Jack Fascinato first partnered with Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1952. The two successfully produced music together for the next 15 years. Fascinato signed a contract with Capitol Records in June 1959, producing memorable music under his own name. In January 1962, he was named musical director of “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.”
Jack Fascinato married his wife, Lores, in 1944 at Chicago. They later settled in Palm Springs, California. He died on Christmas Day 1994.
In 1966, Jack Fascinato was described by the Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D. as “the svelte brunette” who guides the orchestra as Tennessee Ernie Ford sings to music Fascinato has arranged.