The Defranco Family


The DeFranco Family
Origin Port Colborne, Ontario
Genres Bubblegum pop
Past members
Tony DeFranco
Benny DeFranco
Marisa DeFranco
Nino DeFranco
Merlina DeFranco
The DeFranco Family, featuring Tony DeFranco, was a 1970s pop music group and family from Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada. The group, all siblings, consisted of guitarist Benny DeFranco (born 11 July 1953); keyboardist Marisa DeFranco (born 23 July 1954); guitarist Nino DeFranco (born 19 October 1955); drummer Merlina DeFranco (born 20 July 1957); and lead singer Tony DeFranco (born 31 August 1959).

The group had a number of hits between 1973 and 1977, including “Abra-Ca-Dabra” and their biggest hit, “Heartbeat (It’s a Love Beat).” Either Tony DeFranco or the entire family appeared in almost every issue of a number of the teen magazines of this period, such as Tiger Beat and Flip. By the late 1970s, the group had faded from the pop scene.

The five siblings who comprised the DeFranco Family were born to Italian immigrant parents and raised in Port Colborne and Welland, Ontario. Initially performing as the DeFranco Quintet, the group found success after a demo tape of their songs was heard by Sharon Lee, editor of teen magazine Tiger Beat. Impressed by what she heard, Lee arranged for Charles Laufer to fly the group to Los Angeles for an audition. Laufer signed the group to an exclusive deal with his company, Laufer Entertainment, financed a three-song demo, and helped them to secure a contract with 20th Century Records.

The DeFranco Family recorded at United Western Recorders studios in Hollywood with accompaniment by Wrecking Crew veterans Hal Blaine on drums, Larry Carlton on guitar, and Max Bennett on bass. They appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand nine times.

With their lighthearted approach to music, the DeFranco Family became a successful pop music act in the mid-1970s. Their debut 1973 single, “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat,” featuring the lead vocals of then 13-year-old Tony DeFranco, reached number one on WLS for five straight weeks (and was number two there for the entire year 1973), number three in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the top slot on the Cashbox singles chart, as well as hitting number three in their native Canada on the RPM 100 national Top Singles chart, selling more than two million copies in the process. It was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A in November 1973. The song’s writer, Purdue alumnus Michael T. Kennedy, was a long-time executive at Boeing/McDonnell Douglas. Their second single, “Abra-Ca-Dabra,” which reached the Top 40, was followed by their final hit, “Save the Last Dance for Me,” which reached number 18 on the charts in May 1974.

The DeFranco Family’s active career reached a roadblock when a rock version of their tune “Write Me a Letter” failed to generate much attention and reached no higher than the 104th slot on the charts. Although their earlier hits had been produced by Walt Meskell, the disappointing sales of “Write Me a Letter” prompted their record label, 20th Century Fox, to dismiss Meskell involuntarily and team the group with Mike Curb, who had previously worked with The Osmonds. But the collaboration proved disastrous. When Curb attempted to recast the group as a cover band, they resisted and severed their relationship with their publisher and manager, Charles Laufer and Laufer Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox.

Unable to attract interest from another label, they continued to tour and perform in Las Vegas. Frustrated by their inability to attain their previous heights, they disbanded in 1978. A reunion concert at Rhino Records’ Retro Fest in August 1999 was followed by the DeFranco Family’s final performance at B.B. King’s Nightclub in Los Angeles in April 2000.

Tony obtained a real-estate license and became a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty in Westlake Village, California.

The siblings took up residences in California within an hour’s drive from each other and remained close. Although the DeFranco Family gave up its involvement in the music industry, Tony and Marisa continued to perform on occasion.
1973 “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat” # 3 on Billboard Hot 100 / # 1 (1 week) on Cash Box Top 100 Singles chart / # 3 on Canada’s RPM 100 / #6 Australia
1973 “Abra-ca-dabra” # 32 on Billboard Hot 100 / # 23 on Cash Box Top 100 Singles Chart / # 15 on Canada’s RPM 100
1974 “Save the Last Dance for Me” # 18 on Billboard Hot 100 / # 8 on Canada’s RPM 100 / # 16 (2weeks) on Cash Box Top 100 Singles Chart / # 5 Canada’s RPM Adult Hits
1974 “Write Me a Letter” # 104 Bubbling Under Hot 100 / # 90 (2 weeks) on Canada’s RPM 100
1975 “We Belong Together” # 8 on Portland’s Top 30 (08/12/1975) & # 12 WYSL Buffalo, NY & #10 on KOTN, Pine Bluff, AR. b/w “Time Enough For Love”
1976 “Venus” (released in Japan only) b/w “The Only One”
1976 “Drummer Man” b/w “Thought You Might Like To Know” (single pulled)
Albums Edit
Heartbeat, It’s A Lovebeat (1973) Edit
# 109 Billboard / # 31 Canada’s RPM album chart

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Heartbeat, It’s A Lovebeat” Michael Kennedy, Greg Williams 3:14
2. “I’m With You” Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 3:14
3. “Same Kinda Love” (b-side of Abra-Ca-Dabra) Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 3:32
4. “I Wanted To Tell You” Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 3:41
5. “Sweet Sweet Loretta” (b-side of Heartbeat, It’s A Lovebeat) Jim Krauel 2:27
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Abra-Ca-Dabra” Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 3:12
2. “Come A Little Closer” Michael Maben 2:35
3. “Love Is Bigger Than Baseball” Jackie Avery, Carolyn Brown 3:03
4. “Gorilla” Dennis Tracy 3:21
5. “I Love Everything You Do” Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 3:57
Save The Last Dance For Me (1974) Edit
# 163 Billboard

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Save The Last Dance For Me” Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman 3:20
2. “Love The Way You Do” Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 2:47
3. “The Only One” Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 3:26
4. “Because We Both Are Young” (b-side of Save The Last Dance For Me) Tom Bahler, Harry Shannon 4:12
5. “Write Me A Letter” (LP version) Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 3:17
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Hold Me” Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 3:15
2. “I Guess You Already Knew” Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 3:46
3. “Poor Boy” Jessie Hill, Malcolm J. Rebennack 2:39
4. “Baby Blue” (b-side of Write Me A Letter) Aaron Barker, Knight 3:15
5. “Maybe It’s You” Tim Martin, Walt Meskell 4:03
Television appearances Edit

Dinah! – January 23, 1974
Dinah! – March 17, 1974
Dinah! – April 16, 1974
Dinah! – August 19, 1974
Dinah! – August 28, 1974
Mike Douglas – April 2, 1974
Mike Douglas – June 27, 1974
Mike Douglas – August 12, 1974
Jack Benny’s Second Farewell Special – January 24, 1974 (Taping dates: December 15–16, 1973)
The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Season 4, Ep. 21- February 13, 1974
American Bandstand – July 14, 1973
Action ’73 – 5th Special – October 27, 1973
American Bandstand – February 2, 1974
Action ’74 – April 27, 1974
American Bandstand – June 1, 1974
American Bandstand – September 21, 1974

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