Dion

(b. 1939)

Although he originally emerged as a swaggering, Doo Wop-singing teen idol in the late 1950s, streetwise New Yorker Dion DiMucci (better known simply as Dion) quickly showed himself to be a sublimely soulful vocalist as well as an artist of depth and versatility. In the half-century since his original run of hits ended, he's continued to make personally charged, if not always commercially successful, music in a variety of styles.

Dion's musical sensibility was shaped by the Blues, R&B and Country records he heard while growing up in the Bronx in the pre-Rock and Roll 50s. After an unsuccessful 1957 solo single, he recruited harmonizing neighborhood pals Carlo Mastrangelo, Fred Milano, and Angelo D'Aleo to form the Belmonts. With Dion singing lead, the foursome scored a series of hits — "I Wonder Why," "No One Knows," "A Teenager in Love," "Where or When" — whose adolescent orientation couldn't disguise DiMucci's fluid, deeply expressive singing. In 1959, the four singers traveled with the ill-fated trio of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper on 1959's infamous Winter Dance Party tour.

Dion went solo in 1960, and scored even greater success with such smashes as "Runaround Sue," "Lovers Who Wander" and the anthemic "The Wanderer." After signing with Columbia Records in 1962, he began to emerge as a distinctive songwriter, while experimenting with a grittier Blues-Folk-Rock style that showed him to be in tune with the changing musical times. Little of that material was released at the time, and that which was released didn't sell well. A 1966 reunion album with the Belmonts was better received, and in 1968 Dion experienced a life-changing religious conversion and conquered a longstanding heroin addiction. Later that year, he scored a major comeback hit with "Abraham, Martin and John,” a gentle tribute to assassination victims Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy. It solidified his new image as a thoughtful troubadour and set the stage for the introspective, mostly self-penned albums that he would release through the '70s.

DiMucci has stayed prolific in the decades since, remaining in demand on the oldies circuit while exploring a variety of recording approaches, from Christian Pop to acoustic Blues to old-school Rock and Roll.