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Charles Magnante

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Charles Magnante was one of the most important accordion players in music history. If for nothing else, he would be honored for having first started the Magnante Quartet, the world’s first “serious” accordion ensemble along the lines of a chamber quartet. This extremely successful ensemble accomplished much in its career, but will be remembered forever by accordion lovers simply for setting foot on-stage at Carnegie Hall. It wasn’t Magnante’s feet that was important, it was his accordion, as this 1939 spring event was the first time the instrument had been played on the stage of this all-important venue. Lovers of the kazoo, the psaltry, the vina, or the amplified ringer-washer can all either dote on or look forward to their instrument’s Carnegie Hall debut, but for Magnante it was particularly significant. The serious classical world’s prejudice against the accordion and its traditional musical backgrounds represented one of the great obstacles Magnante had to overcome during his career. Thrice elected president of the American Accordion Association, it was Magnante among others who helped change the accordion’s image from a corny instrument reeking of garlic to the serious axe associated with the works of composer Astor Piazzola, for example.

Magnante’s musical beginnings were about as typical of the squeeze-box stereotype as one could get, including plenty of performances of “O Sole Mio” in Italian trattorias. His stage debut came somewhere around the age of five when he was observed singing along with his father, an amateur accordion player who performed at many Italian weddings. From about the age of seven the youngster began sneaking his father’s accordion from the closet and teaching himself.

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