By Donald Wittkowski
Most bands probably would break up if their founder died, but Don’t Call Me Francis stayed together after the death of frontman Frank Orsini and has even strengthened its ties to his family.
The popular South Jersey cover band, which will perform at a concert Saturday night in Sea Isle City, was devastated by Orsini’s passing last year after his battle with cancer.
Some in the music industry speculated the band would fade into history without Orsini, but the members never seriously considered calling it quits, according to his ex-wife, Carmelita Orsini.
“I don’t think there was a time that they thought about that,” she said. “They’re all skilled professional musicians and are working diligently at keeping it going.”
Carmelita Orsini knows the band as well as anyone. After Frank died, she took over as the manager. The Orsini family ties to Don’t Call Me Francis grew even stronger when Frank and Carmelita’s 19-year-old daughter, Adriana, joined the band as a singer after her father’s death.
“Frank was a remarkable and irreplaceable presence. But the band came together. This is what Frank wanted, for them to continue to the best of their ability and keep going,” Carmelita Orsini said.
Don’t Call Me Francis’ legion of fans from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York will have an opportunity to see the band perform at an oceanfront venue when it appears 8 p.m. Saturday for a free concert at Sea Isle City’s Excursion Park Band Shell.
This will be the sixth straight year Don’t Call Me Francis has been part of the outdoor summer concert series sponsored by Sea Isle’s Tourism Office.
“They’ve played here for a number of years and always attract a large crowd,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said. “They play a variety of music and always get the crowd going.”
Alex Glover, of Center Stage Entertainment, the booking agent for the Sea Isle concerts, said Don’t Call Me Francis is so popular that some fans plan their summer vacations in Sea Isle to coincide with the band’s annual show.
“They’re really, really well-known in the Delaware Valley,” Glover said. “They’ve been around for a long time. They’re one of the top acts.”
Carmelita Orsini said concert-goers will be treated to the usual, high-energy dance and party tunes at Don’t Call Me Francis’ Sea Isle show.
The band also has a presence in Sea Isle every Sunday night during a steady gig at LaCosta Lounge through August.
“Sea Isle is a cool place with a lot of wonderful people,” Carmelita Orsini said. “Last year, it was a full house at Excursion Park. There were lawn chairs, there were blankets — there wasn’t an open space to be found.”
The 10-piece band plays at an array of venues, including bars, nightclubs, casinos, corporate events, weddings and private parties.
Because the band usually performs at nightclubs and other adult entertainment spots, the Sea Isle show will be a somewhat rare opportunity for children to see them in concert.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for kids to come out,” Carmelita Orsini said. “It’s nice to be outside. It’s nice to bring the family.”
Don’t Call Me Francis is celebrating its 25th anniversary, but none of the original members dating to the band’s founding by Frank Orsini in 1991 remain.
Orsini served as the frontman and trumpeter. Since his death, Mary Harris, Candice Marie Jernigan, her husband Tim Jernigan and Billy Garrett have handled lead vocals.
Carmelita Orsini shared a deeply personal glimpse of her ex-husband that may explain why the band — his extended family — was inspired to stay together after his death. It may also explain why Carmelita became the manager and why her daughter, Adriana, joined the band as a singer.
The couple divorced in 2001, but they maintained a special bond that kept them and their daughter together. Carmelita said they would share holidays together, dinners and parenting responsibilities.
“We had one, unique relationship,” she recalled. “It was unlike any other divorce arrangement.”