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Johnstown Musician Frank Filia R.I.P.
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 Post Posted: Thursday May 19, 2022 
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Johnstown Musician Frank Filia R.I.P.


Frank Filia was a jazz musician, artist, poet, storyteller, husband, uncle and friend who enjoyed talking about his life in Las Vegas and Johnstown’s old mob days while sipping on cognac when he had money or brandy when dollars were tight.

Filia, who lived in Old Conemaugh Borough, died on Tuesday at age 86.

Last year, he spoke about life and death when he was profiled in The Tribune-Democrat’s In the Spotlight feature.

“Don’t be afraid of death,” he said. “Be afraid of an unlived life, and I lived it.”

Filia’s obituary at hendersonfuneralhome. com/obituary/ Frank-Filia referred to him as “a musician whose long and eventful life epitomized the resilience, challenges, and talents of first-generation Italian Americans” and “a man of the people who cared deeply for his family and others.”

“Frank will be missed at his daily Panera visit with his lifelong buddies,” the obituary stated. “There will be an empty bar stool at the Holiday Inn where Frank sipped his nightly brandy and a missing car slowly driving up Main Street late at night as he reminisced about the town he loved so much. Frank was bigger than life and his legacy will remain in our family and in his hometown forever.”

Born on June 3, 1935, Filia grew up in Johnstown during its heyday, hanging out with pool-shooters, tough guys and bookies.

Later, he encouraged his cousin, Russell Shorto, an internationally known author, to write about their connection to the Mafia, a project that grew into the book “Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob.”

Filia provided the impetus " Shorto would affectionately call it “prodding” " when they got back in contact after years of not seeing each other.

“He said, ‘You’ve been on my mind. You’re the one who’s a writer. You’ve got to write about this,’ ” said Shorto, whose grandfather was one of the biggest figures in the Johnstown mob.

“The fact that he did that and that he kept pushing me opened me up to seeing my family’s story as a story. Once I started doing it, it just totally enriched my life. When you’re looking into your family, researching your family, you’re understanding yourself better.

“In doing that, my dad became my partner and

my ally in doing all that work, so I just became much closer to my father " and all of that is due to Frank.”

Filia, an upright bass player, spent much of his adult life as a musician in Las Vegas, including having an exclusive contract at Capazolli’s.

He developed friendships with superstars, among them Tom Jones, Aretha Franklin and Barbra Streisand. He would often see The Rat Pack and Elvis Presley perform, even though at the time he was not necessarily a fan of the King’s rock ’n’ roll music.

“What he learned from Elvis was how to sell a song,” Shorto said. “He said after that, he learned it’s not just about the singing. It’s about really performing and putting on a show, selling the song.”

In recent years, he regularly played at Harrigan’s Café & Wine Deck, located at Holiday Inn Johnstown-Downtown.

On Thursdays, he performed jazz with pianist John Pencola during the Italian lunch, and afterward, he would spend hours enjoying a few drinks and talking with friends.

“Harrigan’s was his second home,” said Michael Barletta, president of Crown American Associates, which previously owned the Holiday Inn.

Barletta said Filia “meant so much to the community” and was “like everybody’s grandpa, everybody’s Santa Claus.”

“He was entertainment for all ages,” Barletta said. “He was an icon. His personality, the friendship, the storytelling, he had the biggest heart that

I’ve known of anybody. He genuinely cared about people.”

Johnstown said its farewell to Filia in May when friends and family gathered for “A Night to Remember” tribute to him at the Holiday Inn.

“Knowing what kind of cancer Frank had, I knew his days on earth here were very limited,” said Dr. Richard Kastelic, a friend who helped organize the event.

“His niece and I just came up with the idea that the best farewell to Frank would be an absolutely great party with all his friends and these beautiful musicians.”

There were stories, drinks, food and music, including Filia sitting in with the band.

“It was a great night,” said Joey Del Signore Jr., a friend and owner of Joey Del’s 2001 Caterers.

“A lot of the Italian people showed up. Just the camaraderie was just phenomenal. It was just a warm, fuzzy feeling the whole night long. It was wonderful.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.
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