Dion Francis DiMucci was born July 18, 1939 in the Bronx, New York, son of an Italian-American couple. His father was a vaudeville entertainer and often took Dion on tour with him. Dion grew up loving the music of performers like Hank Williams and Al Jolson. He learned the skills of singing from the street, where he would harmonize with other guys.
He met Bob and Gene Schwartz who had recently formed a small local label called Mohawk Records. They had Dion come in for an audition and ended up recording his first record with a group of guys called The Timberlanes. The song was called “The Chosen Few.” Dion did not know these guys and didn’t like singing with them, so he went out and found his own group of guys that sang more in the style he wanted to sing, more like singing on the street corner. These guys were Carlo Mastrangelo, Fred Milano, and Angelo D’Aleo who had named themselves after a street in the Bronx called Belmont Street. The group became Dion and the Belmonts.
Together as a group, Dion and the Belmonts recorded between 1958 and 1960, placing seven songs in the Top 40 and two songs, “A Teenager in Love” and “Where or When” into the Top 10. In 1960, Dion decided to go solo and split from the Belmonts to record just under the name Dion.
His first solo hit was “Lonely Teenager” (#12) in 1960 which is ironic since Dion was 21 by this time. He still had that baby face, however, and could pull it off. His second record, “Runaround Sue” hit number one and was the only number one of his career. The song was written by Dion and Ernie Maresca. Maresca went on to have his own Top 10 hit called “Shout! Shout! (Knock Yourself Out)” in 1962.
Dion actually married a girl named Sue (Susan Butterfield) in 1963, but Dion insists the song is not about her (I don’t think they hadn’t even met when he wrote the song.) The song is about a girl he knew named Roberta, but that is all we know about her.
Dion continued to record and chart for many years. He went away for awhile and then had a resurgence in 1968. In 1972, he had a reunion with the Belmonts at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 2. I have checked this concert as thoroughly as I can and I’m pretty sure I was there. My wife and I lived in New Jersey at the time and this was the oldies concert of the year. The lineup was great and it was very cool to see Dion and the Belmonts sing again. I remember this concert because Little Richard was one of the headliners and when he performed he took off his shirt and swung it around his head and threw it to the audience. My wife was mortified. She covered her eyes and would not look. I thought it was great.
“Runaround Sue” entered the pop chart on October 2, 1961 and spent two weeks at number one.