Gino Valenti is one of those great Jersey characters.  I mean, Gino is a real person, thoroughly real, but he also represents a type of high-grain, deeply-saturated Jersey style that you hear and feel and know instantly when you meet him.  It's something about the under-dog, the believer, the dreamer in him that connects him to the state for me.  He is a lifer.  He has never given up on his fantasy and he has tasted it from time to time, enough anyway, that at 76 years old he is still reaching for it.

Valenti, whose gone by many other stage names including, Valentine, Valentino, Galant, Galante, etc., is a retired community bus driver.  I first heard about Gino from the English as a Second Language teachers in Ocean County, NJ.  He drove the many Spanish speaking families around the county to various classes and meetings, serenading them with Sinatra and Bennett songs. 

Driving Jersey: Gino Valenti: Beach Haven West, NJ

"I wouldn't be surprised," I was told by one of the teachers, "if these folks wound up learning as much english through his songs as they do in the classes."  The children on the bus were already able to sing along.  "It's the funniest thing," the teacher said, "most of these kids are from Mexico, but they all sing with this great North Jersey accent."

Valenti currently lives in Beach Haven West, a small coastal town, but he is originally from Jersey City.  He worked for part of his life, his younger life, his early family life for Westinghouse, involved in the manufacture of home appliances.  During his employ there, Valenti sang at various work events, until he quit the job and made singing, nightclubs, weddings and stage shows, his life. 

Sinatra was and still is Valenti’s inspiration, but one of the highlights of his career came because of Tony Bennett, or the absence of Tony Bennett actually. In the late 1950s Bennett was to appear at Roosevelt Stadium at Droyer’s Point in Jersey City.  When Bennett was unable to perform, Valenti was asked to fill in.  And though the crowd was expecting Bennett, Valenti, the native son, won them over and received a standing ovation at the close of the show.  He called it “one of the most exciting nights of my life.” 

“They used to call Bennett the Poor Man’s Frank Sinatra,” Valenti said, “and then they started calling me the Poor Man’s Tony Bennett and ya know what, that was fine by me...cause I liked it.”

Enjoy GINO VALENTI: THE WINNER, as we followed the crooner around on the day of his final big stage show.  Valenti retired following this performance.  Today, he only sings at local senior centers.  “Life,” he said, “steals an awful lot away from older folks, including their memories, but for some reason, the music never leaves them.  I can see it in their eyes when I start to sing.  They light up.  Suddenly they’re home again.  And because of that, I could never give it up.”                                        

                                                              Ladies and Gentlemen...Gino Valenti.

Special thanks to the Stafford Township Arts Center and staff, especially Mark Keeler of MK Productions.