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Library Collection Spotlights Father of "The Norfolk Sound"

By Phil Walzer

He created the "Norfolk Sound" in rock and roll and propelled Gary U.S. Bonds to fame. Soon visitors to the Old Dominion University Perry Library can learn all about Frank Guida.

Guida's family's company, Rockmasters International Network Inc., last year donated his memorabilia - from 45 records to ceiling-high audio equipment to photos with celebrities like Sarah Vaughan - to the University's Special Collections.

Guida didn't attend Old Dominion, but his daughters, Anne Kent and Lydia McHenry, did.

"The sound that he fathered is known as the Norfolk Sound, so we couldn't think of a more appropriate place to share his legacy with the world than ODU," said his son, Joe, a lawyer in Dallas.

The "Norfolk Sound" was distinguished by the feel of a "live party," including clapping and spontaneous street sounds, said Tim Anderson, an associate professor of communication and theatre arts. The music was credited for influencing such musical legends as Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles.

The donation will be "an invaluable addition," said Jessica Ritchie, head of special collections and university archives. "Not only does it allow us to document a unique chapter in our local history, it also encourages exciting opportunities for scholarly research by students and faculty at ODU and beyond."

Guida was born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1922 and moved with his family to New York when he was 2.

During World War II, he served with the Army in Trinidad. That, said Anderson, explains the calypso flavor to some of his later records, including Anderson's favorite - Jimmy Soul's "If You Wanna Be Happy," which Guida co-wrote with his wife, Carmela, and songwriter Joe Royster. It peaked at No. 1 in 1963.

Guida moved to Norfolk in 1953 and almost immediately opened his first record store, Frankie's Birdland, on Church Street. Later, he opened Frankie's Got It on Granby Street.

But he didn't want to just sell records. He launched record labels including LeGrand and SPQR. He wrote the music and he found the talent to record the songs, including Tommy Facenda and Lenis Guess.

But his best-known discovery was Gary U.S. Bonds. Then known as Gary Anderson, the young singer was making the rounds in Norfolk - performing on street corners, at amateur clubs, in church. "My father immediately spotted his potential," Joe Guida said. "He wasn't just impressed with his voice; Gary also had good looks and charisma."

Guida co-wrote and produced Bonds' biggest hit, "Quarter to Three," which was No. 1 for two weeks in 1961.

Decades later, Springsteen regularly sang the song in concerts. Dion reportedly cited "Quarter to Three" as the inspiration for his similarly sounding hit "Runaround Sue."

Guida also dreamed up Bonds' stage name.

He got the idea after seeing a poster in a deli near the Church Street shop encouraging people to buy U.S. bonds, his son said. "My father was a very resourceful guy at coming up with attention-grabbing gimmicks. He was a marketing genius."

Old Dominion's Frank and Carmela Guida/Rockmasters International Network Inc. Collection includes recording awards, VHS tapes, towering sound equipment and photos of him with celebrities including musicians Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan and Stan Getz, actress Sophia Loren and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

Guida was added to Norfolk's musical Walk of Fame in 2003. He died in 2007 one week before his 85th birthday. His wife and creative partner, Carmela ("Millie"), died the following year.

Guida was a Renaissance man whose interests extended beyond music, his son said. He was a self-taught artist who specialized in oil paintings. He also was active in Italian-American groups, and in 1995 the president of Italy conferred on Guida the designation of "Cavaliere," the equivalent of a knighthood.

The Guida collection includes an announcement of the recipients of the Jimson Weed Awards by the Italian-American Cultural Foundation of Hampton Roads, an organization founded by Guida. The awards, named after the nasty-smelling plant, were intended to zing actors who promoted negative Italian-American stereotypes. One of the recipients, before his death, was James Gandolfini, who portrayed the mob boss on "The Sopranos."

Guida's strong cultural identification also influenced his behavior in the era of segregation. "He was very sensitive about any kind of discrimination against people based on race, ethnicity or creed," Joe Guida said.

When he was on the road with black musicians, "his position was, 'Either you give everybody a room or we're not going to stay here.'" Sometimes, Guida was told that only he could stay in the hotel. "So they'd all stop somewhere and sleep in the car."

This article appeared in the spring issue of Monarch magazine. To read more from the magazine, go to www.odu.edu/monarchmag

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