Frankie Bonitto

Frankie Bonitto, photographed in 1998

Frankie Bonitto, photographed in 1998

Could there be a cooler name than Frankie Bonitto? As I comb through archives of the Daily Gleaner from the 50s and 60s, this name keeps popping up like a bad episode of the Sopranos, so of course I had to find out, just who was this guy? Turns out, Frankie Bonitto was a classical pianist who performed in the big band era, had his own orchestra, and he performed with everyone like Don Drummond, Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Tommy McCook, and visiting American artists of high acclaim. He performed mostly live at all of the popular clubs in Kingston, and I was unable to find any recordings, so if anyone knows of any, please do post below.

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, July 26, 1969

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, July 26, 1969

Daily Gleaner writer Bob Babcock in his “Around and About” column on March 26, 1967 wrote, “Our good old friend Frankie Bonitto is still holding his own at Kingston’s favourite Flamingo Hotel. I can recall when Frankie and I took a show to Guantanamo Bay alone, with Lord Power, Irene the Sex Queen and a dance troupe. From the reaction of the residents of Guantanamo, Frankie was the Number One.”

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, October 19, 1951

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, October 19, 1951

In 1998, Frankie Bonitto performed at a tribute held in his honor at the Kingston Hilton called “Ecstasy with Frankie Bonitto: A time to remember.” The tribute concert featured musical performances from jazz singer, Myrna Hague and legendary band leader (and her husband) Sonny’ Bradshaw, along with Boris Gardiner, Ernie Smith, and Ernest Ranglin. The Daily Gleaner article on the tribute stated, “Frankie Bonitto himself will also perform. This gentleman’s music has earned the respect of his peers and also a wider, younger generation of artistes for his unstinted dedication to excellence in a career that spans over 40 years. According to information reaching The Gleaner, Mr. Bonitto has played in most music hall and nightclubs in the island, including, the Glass Bucket, Silver Slipper and Bournemouth clubs, among others. Like his peers in the early ’50s and ’60s he came under the influence of Vere Johns Opportunity Hour live shows at the Carib, Tropical, Palace, Gaiety and Ambassador cinemas. Over the years, Mr. Bonitto developed his own style of playing the piano and has provided accompaniment for top local and foreign stars, including ‘Nat’ Cole, Gladys Knight and Harry Belafonte.”

From the Daily Gleaner, November 4, 2000

From the Daily Gleaner, November 4, 2000

The Gleaner, on Saturday, November 4, 2000, ran an article with the headline, “Frankie Bonitto, musical giant, is dead.” It stated, “ONE OF Jamaica’s musical giants, pianist, Frankie Bonitto, died yesterday at the Kingston Public Hospital. The late musician succumbed to injuries sustained in a car accident on Mountain-View Avenue at about 7 p.m. on Thursday. He was resident pianist at the Hilton Kingston Hotel. The accident occurred on the way to work. He had been playing at that hotel for over two years. Frankie Bonitto was a product of the 1950s when Jamaica’s best musical talents mushroomed. He began playing the piano at a very early age and later received professional tutoring. In the 1950s and 60s he played in the Big Band along with Roy Coburn, Eric Deans , and Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling, Billy Cook, Carl Masters, Raymond Harper and Donald Jarret. In the 1960’s he was a regular feature, of the music halls around Kingston, including the Glass Bucket, Silver Slipper, The Colony and Bournemouth clubs. In December of 1998, a musical tribute was held at the Hilton Kingston hotel in his honour. Quite a gregarious character, over the years he developed his own style of playing the piano and has provided accompaniment for international stars such as Nat King Cole, Gladys Knight, Johnny Matthis and Harry Belafonte. He was one of the most revered pianists in Jamaica. Bonitto who lived in East Kingston and was a pivotal figure in that community, was married to Yvonne. His maxim in life was, ‘if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.’ He leaves behind four children.”

9 comments

  1. Ah! I met Mr. Bonitto at the Hilton in the summer of 2000 – brilliant, kind man! He was from Bournemouth Gardens and I believe he lived either directly next door to or right across the street from the Mahfoods. Knew quite a bit about Drummond and IIRC, had an interesting perspective on Marguerita’s death.

  2. I too met him around 2000 or so. Somewhere I might’ve taken notes on whatever information he passed along. He was a lovely man to talk to, I do recall. Nice of you to present him. He was obviously more than a bit player in the history of Jamaica’s music.

  3. Frankie was actually my grand father and reading this just warmed my heart. Thank you for recognizing him for his amazing talent and contribution to music. He was an amazing father and family man. I only have great memories of him and the stories my dad tells me about him are amazing. There actually is video of him playing but its really old. I’m going to try and convert and post the videos. Thanks again.

    • Brandon, so good to hear from you! Your grandfather was crucial to Jamaican music, so it was my honor to write about him and make more people aware of his legacy. Please do let me know when/if those videos of him are ready to view and I’ll put the word out–I would LOVE to see them!!!!! These videos are am important part of history! If you need any help, let me know, and if your father would be willing to talk to me about your grandfather, I would love to record some of this history–it’s my life’s work! Thank you again.l

  4. Frankie Bonitto was my dad and my name is Frank Bonitto (J.R) i am playing music following his footsteps and will never stop playing music because i like what i am doing HEY!!! i am a drummer 🙂 thanks to the person who wrote the blog

  5. I am related to Frankie Bonitto by way of my grandmother and grandfather who were Jamaican, Margaret and Frank Bonitto. I am a jazz musician
    (bassist, composer, songwriter) and I have known about Frankie Bonitto for years. I understand he was playing at the Pegasus hotel in Kingston for quite some time. I would love to be in contact with family, friends & interested parties regarding Frankie Bonitto!

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