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When Chris Ruggiero was growing up in Somers, his taste in music didn’t seem to fit in with most of his peers.
While they may have been listening to Justin Bieber or a variety of other artists, Ruggiero was listening to doo-wop music of the 1950s, which he heard play when riding in his grandfather’s car.
“So immediately I download every doo-wop song I could possibly find and I fall in love with doo-wop music, and then over the course of the last couple years, I’ve fallen in love with the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, too,” said Ruggiero, a Somers High School graduate. “Now it doesn’t have to have a certain year on it; it just has to tell a great story, have a timeless melody and great lyrics.”
Now at 24, Ruggiero is forging his own path in the music industry, singing many of the tunes from two or three generations ago.
This Sunday afternoon, he will be returning to the area to perform at Yorktown Stage in a Christmas concert backed by a 10-piece band singing the holiday classics with his own arrangements. Some of his favorites include “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”
His appearance in Yorktown is part of a cross-country holiday season tour for the show that will wrap up on Dec. 20 in Las Vegas.
Ruggiero’s only lament is that his latest album, a collection of Christmas songs, was his fifth album rather than his first because the run-up to the holidays is his favorite time of year.
“There’s all the great memories of spending time with family and friends and, for me, that’s what Christmas is all about, spending time with people you love and that’s what I especially love about the Yorktown Stage,” Ruggiero said.
In a tremendous coup for his career, last year he recorded “A Grown-Up Christmas List,” with Darlene Love, who worked with some of the top talent of the 1960s and was on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers list.
When it’s not the holiday season, you can hear Ruggiero perform his arrangements of some of the best ’60s and ‘70s selections. He has legendary arranger Charlie Colello, who worked with Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, Frankie Valli and scores of other greats, helping with some of his arrangements.
As a kid, Ruggiero never expected to be on tour or recording albums. In high school, he had to be coaxed by a teacher to try out for a men’s choir at 17 because friends had mentioned that they thought he had a beautiful voice.
“I didn’t want to join in the worst way,” he said. “My first experience of being on stage was with the men’s choir at a show we had at the high school that was put together with the Lions Club.”
At that concert, a couple of people got sick, so there was about a 20-minute slot that had to be filled, Ruggiero said. That’s when one of the men in the choir said to him, “Chris, would you sing to kill time?”
“I said, I guess, so I went out by myself and that was the first time I ever sang alone on a stage,” he said. “I was scared to death of nerves.”
But he must have done well. A friend of his who was in attendance told him that someone from a production company was there looking for young singers to perform some of the older classics. That experience landed him on a show on PBS the following year.
He also realized that when he did sing audiences responded.
“It was really special and a beautiful thing to realize that people would actually come pay and spend two hours of their life to come and watch a show,” Ruggiero said. “It is such a great feeling. I still can’t believe it every time I look out there, all these people come just to see me and it’s a great feeling.”
When he started, many in his audiences were in their 80s, but once he transitioned to performing more standards from the ‘60s and ‘70s the age of the crowd decreased by 10 to 20 years.
Then those people started bringing their children, Ruggiero said, and the children began bringing the grandchildren. Now he’s got a whole new audience.
It’s not like Ruggiero dislikes music from his generation. He loves Bruno Mars and the up-and-coming singer Stephen Sanchez. But there’s nothing like the older songs.
“The older songs are songs about love, falling in love, wanting to be in love, losing love, being in love, and it told such a great story,” Ruggiero said. “That was something that was really important in a song back then.”
For more about Chris Ruggiero, visit www.chrisruggierosings.com.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/