Born August 17, 1952, in Utica, NY; son of Emilio Frank (in sales) and Caroline (Gitto) Cappelli; married Patty Broderick, 1978; children: Giuseppi, Caroline, Timmy, and Frankie, Jr. Education: Graduated from West Chester State College. Addresses: Publicity--Peanut Heaven, 717 N. Meadowcroft Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15216. Management--The Brad Simon Organization, Inc., 122 E. 57th St., New York, NY 10022.
According to an article in Parents magazine, "With Frank Cappelli, you swing, you sway, and you learn where the fork goes (`To the left of the plate, to the left, my friend')." Therein lay the key reasons why children's musician Frank Cappelli has gotten so popular recently: his engaging personality and very singable songs gently instruct while they entertain. More importantly, the simple sophistication of his music charms toddlers but rarely annoys their parents, as is so often the complaint about music for the smaller set. Cappelli's ability to walk that fine line--and a great deal of luck--has pushed him to the top of his field in a very short time.
Born on August 17, 1952, in Utica, New York, Cappelli moved with his family to Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, when he was four. As a sixth grader he decided to take up the guitar, and it was only then that he learned he could actually sing. He eventually performed George Gershwin tunes with a group around the Pittsburgh area. Although Cappelli adored performing, his parents encouraged him to go to college in order to have something to fall back on. He graduated from West Chester State College qualified to teach music to children. It was the student teaching necessary for this degree that made it clear his greatest talent lay in singing for children.
In the mid-1970s Cappelli worked as a substitute teacher in the tough schools of South Philadelphia. "The thing that saved me was, I would bring my guitar," he told Maryland's Frederick News-Post. "I found I could sing to kids and get their undivided attention," he further explained in Billboard. "Then I realized I could also teach them with music and started writing little songs." Cappelli discovered, however, that singing professionally paid better than teaching. He would perform songs with friends in coffeehouses and folk clubs in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, New Jersey, and substitute teach on occasion during the day.
In 1977 Cappelli moved back to Pittsburgh and met his future wife, Patty, a waitress in one of the clubs where he performed. Together they formed the first singing telegram company in Pittsburgh, but after four very successful years, their idea had stirred up so much competition that they decided to sell the company in 1982.
With their two young children, the Cappellis moved to Denver, Colorado, taking jobs at a lumber company. While they gained a degree-full of business experience, they missed home. Frank had moved to Denver to break into the music industry, but as he told Frances Borsodi Zajac in the Pittsburgh Herald Standard, "I didn't put value on the fact that in Pittsburgh people knew me so they would come to see me. In Denver, they didn't know me." Now a family of five, they went home.
The Cappellis had not lost the love of running their own business, though, and all arrows pointed to Frank's singing ability. In 1988, with the financial support of an attorney friend and business partners, the Cappellis started their own record label, Peanut Heaven. They recorded and released four albums: Look Both Ways, You Wanna Be a Duck?, On Vacation, and Good. They took care of the publicity and distribution and eventually got National Record Mart to stock the albums in their Pittsburgh stores. It was an executive of those stores who introduced the Cappellis to A&M Records.
An A&M representative went to see Cappelli play two West Virginian dates in 1989. The first concert was a smash, but the second--in a run-down mall in a rural town--was a disaster; nobody even knew Cappelli was coming. He apologized to the A&M rep and played his set anyway. The second show sold the representative on Cappelli. Frank recalled to the Herald Standard's Zajac, "[The A&M rep] said, 'You can make magic. Once you started singing, people forgot they were in a boarded-up mall.'" In July of 1989 Cappelli signed a worldwide promotion and distribution contract with A&M Records, and in October of the same year A&M released all four of the existing Peanut Heaven children's cassettes.
Luck and talent continued to pay off when, having just pitched a show and been rejected by a local radio station, Cappelli ran into the program director of WTAE-TV, which shared a lobby with the rejecting radio station. From 1990 to 1993, 65 episodes of Cappelli & Company were taped at WTAE-TV, the Pittsburgh-based ABC network affiliate. The show featured an audience of 40 to 50 children between the ages of three to seven. They sat with Cappelli on a simple stage set while he talked and sang, brought on educational guests, and played music videos of his own songs. "I think young children like my show because it provides them with a safe place to go," Cappelli reflected to Zajac in the Herald Standard. "They feel comfortable. And I believe they like watching other children.... They're not talked down to. They're treated like people. And there's something in my personality: I connect with little people."
In addition to his audio cassettes, Cappelli released two video cassettes in 1990: All Aboard the Train and Other Favorites--which won the 1990 Parent's Choice Foundation Gold Award--and Slap Me Five. Both releases are samplers of Cappelli & Company. Reviewing the tapes for Billboard, Moira McCormick voted All Aboard "the more engrossing of the two, especially for preschoolers.... But the songs [on both tapes] are uniformly catchy and fun to sing--and as a result, rate very low on the parental-irritation meter.... A pair of winners." TV Guide, voting them two of the "Best in Home Video," found "Cappelli's magic ... in his varied delivery, using styles as diverse as reggae and polka, opera and rock and roll, and his songs are lively, imaginative and memorable."
In June of 1991 A&M released the audio cassette Pass the Coconut. Parenting magazine gave it an "A" and felt that "Cappelli's great stew of instruments ... and musical styles ... mesh seamlessly with lyrics that are playful, pleasantly simple, and even mildly educational." Pass the Coconut won the 1991 Parent's Choice Foundation's Gold Award, the citation for which declared Cappelli "a witty, fun-loving delight who lets his imagination run free. The result is an enchanting, entertaining mix of off-beat songs in a variety of pop styles.... A clever collection."
On April 5, 1993, Cappelli & Company, which had earned several Emmy awards from the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and which had been syndicated to stations in Boston, Baltimore, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Dayton, went national as all 65 episodes were purchased by Nickelodeon, the Children's Cable Network. It would now broadcast into 57 million homes. TV Guide voted it one of "Pre-School's Best Bets" in their special parents' guide: "Decent, fatherly Frank Cappelli simply looks like a dad you can trust. The show is informative, patient, and simple without ever slipping into a patronizing tone. As for the music, the performers are all engaging, and the tunes are sing-along accessible without being cloying."
Billboard emphasized, "Few artists have Cappelli's songwriting skills. Whether writing cautionary tunes about brushing your teeth and crossing the street or simply fun numbers about trains and fruits, Cappelli finds a melody that's hard to shake. It doesn't hurt, too, that he's hammy enough to deliver in broad, winning strokes."
In September of 1993 A & M released Take a Seat. Once again critics marveled at Cappelli's gift for making everyday events in a kid's life into wonderful musical experiences. Parents summed it up: "Mostly he teaches (by example) that it's pure joy to fill up your lungs, open your mouth and sing."
Although in the mid-1990s Cappelli & Company was no longer in production, the Cappellis were still hard at work developing new projects. Frank was at work on a new series entitled People, Places and Things, which he planned to host. Devised as a tool for classroom teachers, the programs use music, story, song, and location documentaries to enhance a new approach to teaching reading--the Whole Language Learning process.
Television aside, Frank Cappelli is at his best when performing for children. His trademark "sing-and-dance-alongs" always generate enthusiastic participation from concert goers. Whether alone on stage or with a symphony orchestra backing him up, Cappelli wanders throughout the crowd, his acoustic guitar unplugged and uninhibiting, charming the socks off his younger audience as well as the bigger folks, their parents.
by Joanna Rubiner
Frank Cappelli's Career
Began singing for children as a substitute teacher, mid-1970s; started first singing telegram company in Pittsburgh, PA, 1977-82; worked in sales for a lumber wholesaler, Denver, CO, c. 1982-88; began record label, Peanut Heaven, and released first four albums, 1988; signed with A&M Records, 1989; A&M released all four Peanut Heaven cassettes; Cappelli & Company aired on WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh and was syndicated to five major Midwest cities, 1990-93; Cappelli & Company aired on cable station Nickelodeon, 1993.
Frank Cappelli's Awards
Achievement in Children's Television Award, Action for Children's Television, for Cappelli & Company, 1990; Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters Award for Best Children's Program in Pennsylvania for Cappelli & Company, 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993; Parent's Choice Gold Award for All Aboard the Train, 1990, and for Pass the Coconut, 1991; Emmy awards, Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, for outstanding children's programming/series for Cappelli & Company, 1990 and 1992; Gabriel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming for Cappelli & Company, 1990 and 1993.
- Selective Works
- On A&M Records Look Both Ways, 1989.
- You Wanna Be a Duck?, 1989.
- On Vacation, 1989.
- Good, 1989.
- Pass the Coconut, 1991.
- Take a Seat, 1993.
- Also released videos All Aboard the Train and Slap Me Five, both 1990.
- Billboard, July 14, 1990; August 10, 1991; November 28, 1992.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 3, 1993.
- Frederick News-Post (MD), March 18, 1994.
- Herald-Standard (Pittsburgh, PA), February 20, 1994.
- Parenting, June/July 1992.
- Parents, November 1993.
- People, March 5, 1990.
- Saturday Evening Post, January/February 1993.
- School Library Journal, October 1990; February 1994.
- TV Guide, March 2, 1991; October 30, 1993.
- Update: The Campaign for QED (newsletter of WQED-TV, Pittsburgh, PA), June 1994.
- Video, November 1990.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Peanut Heaven publicity materials, 1994.