By Charlie Sacchetti
I clearly remember the first time I met Sam Nasuti. It was at his “big brother’s” birthday party in January 2014, at the Masonic Home in Burlington, New Jersey. Sam was one of the honored guests who would celebrate his pal Fred Frett’s 99th birthday.
“Uncle Fred” is the uncle of my dear friend and Temple baseball teammate, Ted Frett. Being a beloved second father to Ted made his devotion to his uncle a natural outgrowth of their relationship. Indeed, that devotion and caring continue to this day. Sam was a spry 91 at the time and his initial reticence towards me melted quickly once we began chatting. Our conversation went very quickly from his South Philadelphia roots, then to the Phillies and finally to the topic that really made his motor run: his career in music.
Sam shared that he was a professional singer and musician from the age of 17. He actually started performing at 6, singing at family functions to the loving applause of his relatives. His work had taken him all over the country while rubbing elbows with the music world’s biggest stars. A self-taught pianist, he never read music but was able to play beautifully “by ear.” In other words, he had the innate ability to reproduce a piece of music after hearing it without seeing or referring to it on any form of sheet music, a rare skill indeed. Even at his advanced age, it wasn’t uncommon to see him playing a few tunes on one of the pianos in a lounge area of the residence.
Sam was not a reluctant name-dropper. He was very proud of his career and had an abundance of stories about the times he met and worked with the likes of Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin, whom he described as being a really “nice guy.” He was, however, very quick to give his opinion of another icon that surprised me. A colleague wanted to introduce Sam to Frank Sinatra. At an earlier time, Sam had seen Ol’ Blue Eyes in a heated discussion with a band member. Sam considered Frank’s behavior to be bully-like and unwarranted, so he politely refused the introduction. I would suppose that would put Sam in a very small club indeed but he wore that refusal as a badge of honor. One story that I found to be particular poignant was when a young Billie Holiday literally “cried on my shoulder on the front steps” after being refused admission to a hotel in the segregated South.
I regard my visits with Ted to see his uncle as a real privilege. In fact, I have even taken the opportunity to visit both Fred and Sam solo, sometimes crashing their “lunch gang,” which has consisted of the same four cronies for years. I especially appreciate the honor of being invited to each of Uncle Fred’s birthday parties since the one in 2014. In fact, on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, Ted and the family honored Uncle Fred on birthday No. 105. Of course, Sam at the age of 97 was in attendance and we had the opportunity to sit and talk a little baseball, music and tell the kinds of stories that usually creep into the conversation when two Italian buddies get together. Although recently confined to a wheelchair, he still was dapperly dressed, wearing his signature baseball cap and windbreaker.
As the party progressed, it was time for the Frett kiddies to put on their yearly “talent show,” directed with love and competence by the Frett ladies. As Uncle Fred, Sam and the others looked on, they were serenaded by at least a dozen little ones, starting with the National Anthem and continuing with some more recent songs. As their performance wound to a close, the show-biz bug bit Sam big time. He belted out an old standard, “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” and was quickly joined by Judy, Ted’s wife and Christie, their daughter-in-law. Their unplanned harmonizing was a sight (and sound) to behold. We were all amazed at Sam’s voice strength and flawless delivery. When he sang his second song, “This Can’t Be Love,” he was in a world of his own. Now that he was singing solo, the lyrics and melody flowed effortlessly and he had the audience spellbound. I again marveled at the strength and power of his delivery. When he finished, applause filled the room.
When the show was over, it was time for the coffee and cake. Not many people noticed but about 15 minutes after his performance, Sam slowly slumped in his chair. Ted discretely wheeled Sam out of the room. When they arrived at the nurse’s station, it was apparent that Sam had stopped breathing. He was taken to the hospital where he peacefully died in the wee hours of Sunday morning. When Ted informed Uncle Fred that his buddy had passed away, Fred said without hesitation, “That’s just the way he would want to go.”
The definition of a “command performance” is a “presentation of a play, concert, opera or other show at the request of royalty.” There certainly were no regular kings or queens present on Saturday at the party, but the King of Kings surely was and He allowed Sam to share his gift with a loving audience one last time.
And we all were truly blessed.
Charlie Sacchetti is the author of the book “It’s All Good … Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change.” Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org