The Story and Music of The DeFranco Family (featuring Tony DeFranco)



The DeFranco Family featuring Tony DeFranco were a Canadian family of Italian heritage and a 1970s pop group hailing from Ontario. They comprise of all siblings: Benny, Marisa, Nino, Merlina and the youngest, Tony. The group released their first single, “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat” which eventually went to US Top 10 as well as reaching #3 on the charts from their native Canada; oldies music fans will surely remember that song. The follow-up singles “Abra-Ca-Dabra” and “Save The Last Dance For Me” also did pretty well ont the chart. But their next single, their rock version of “Write Me a Letter” failed in the chart, their label switched producers, but with more disastrous outcomes. Because of them being cast as a cover band, the DeFranco Family disassociated themselves from Laufer and 20th Century Fox Records. Following other frustrations, they disbanded as a musical group in 1978, although the siblings have remained close. They reunited for a while in 1999-2000. All of the siblings now reside in California.

Formation and early success

The DeFranco Family is a now-defunct pop group during the 70s music era. They originated from Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada. The group comprised of all the DeFranco siblings: Tony, the youngest in the brood (lead vocals; born in 1959) Benny (guitars; born in 1953), Marisa (keyboards; born in 1954), Nino (guitars; born in 1955), and Merlina (drums; born in 1957). The DeFrancos are of Italian descent.

Previously as The DeFranco Quartet, they were on their way to stardom when their demo tapes were heard by a teen magazine editor, Sharon Lee. Lee then made arrangements for the group to fly to Los Angeles with the help of Charles Laufer, who then signed the siblings into his own company, Laufer Enterntainment. Laufer also helped the DeFranco Family sign a deal with 20th Century Fox Records.

The DeFranco Family released their first single “Heartbeat – It’s a Lovebeat” in 1973. It became a big hit, rising to its peak position at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. This single, as all of the other singles of the group, was billed as “The DeFranco Family featuring Tony DeFranco” as Tony, the youngest sibling, was always featured on lead vocals. He was just 13 years old when the single was released.

“Heartbeat – It’s a Lovebeat” sold over million copies and was awarded with a gold disc. Their second single “Abra-Ca-Dabra” was released in late 1973 and also made to the Top 40 of the Hot 100, peaking there at #32.

Their third single was their cover of the Pomus-Shuman classic pop song “Save the Last Dance for Me” in 1974. The single peaked at #18 on the Hot 100. But it was to be the DeFranco Family’s last major hit.

Later career and disbandment

The DeFranco Family’s dominance on the charts ended by the time they released a single “Write Me a Letter,” perhaps in their bid to enter the rock territory. But it fizzled as the single showed disappointing sales, leading to bubble under the Hot 100 at #104 in 1974.

Because of the dismal performance of the “Write Me a Letter”, 20th Century Fox dismissed Walt Meskel, who produced the single. It later hired Mike Curb, who had worked with The Osmonds before. But the collaboration proved to be an unfortunate experience for the siblings. When Curb wanted to re-fashion the DeFranco Family as a cover band, they opposed to the idea. As a result, the group disassociated their ties with Laufer and Laufer Entertainment, as well as 20th Century Fox.

The group continued to perform mostly in Las Vegas, but they couldn’t find another label who would be interested in them. Disappointed by the course of their career, the DeFranco Family broke up as a group in 1978.

Later lives of the DeFranco siblings

The DeFranco Family’s only performances since their breakup are their 1999 reunion concert and a 2000 reunion gig at a nightclub in Los Angeles. Tony and Marisa would sometimes perform together. But as far as their music career is concerned, it’s practically over for the siblings. However, they remain close to each other and in fact they’re just within an hour’s drive from their own homes in California.

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