Pop singer Frankie Avalon was among the premiere “teen idols” of the late 50s and early 60s, scoring many hits in the pre-Beatles era and starring in dozens of films, among them a popular series of beach movies that paired Avalon with Annette Funicello.
As a boy growing up in Philadelphia Avalon studied the trumpet, and played with local bands. He scored a break thanks to an encounter with singer Al Martino, who hailed from the same south Philly neighborhood where Avalon lived. Martino was back home visiting friends and celebrating a recent hit when Avalon talked his way into Martino’s party and played his trumpet for the singer, who was impressed enough to introduce Avalon to his agent. This led to appearances on Perry Como and Jackie Gleason’s television shows.
By the late 1950s, with Elvis getting drafted, Chuck Berry going to jail, and Jerry Lee Lewis’ career sidelined by scandal after his marriage to his underage cousin, there was a vacuum in the Rock and Roll world. Avalon’s managers figured that with his good looks and winsome personality Avalon might do well if marketed to the teen audience and encouraged him to put down his trumpet and sing. He started recording for the local Chancelor label, where his earliest releases didn’t find an audience.
Avalon’s first hit was 1958’s "De De Dinah." To detractors, the record was a bland example of the “Teen Idol” sound, manufactured by managers looking to build uncontroversial Pop stars with teen appeal, controlling how their artists looked, acted, and what songs they sang. But it was a hit with the young record buyers of the day — the record went to No. 7 and Avalon was on his way. In the years that followed he charted over 30 songs, including the song he is best remembered for, "Venus," which spent five weeks at No. 1 in 1959.
By the time Beatlemania landed the hits had slowed, but Avalon had launched a successful film career, which took a jump after he starred with Annette Funicello in the low-budget Beach Party, which became a surprise sensation in 1963. It lead to a series of successful beach-themed movies that cast Avalon as an archetypal fun loving, wholesome American teen — an image he is still remembered for.
In the 1970s Avalon focused on live entertaining and television work. In 1978 he appeared in the blockbuster movie musical Grease, which introduced him to a new generation of viewers. Since then he has continue to perform and make occasional movie appearances.