No one can capture a moment quite like Frankie Valli, the Newark legend and Garden State treasure.
So, it came as no surprise Thursday that, on the day Newark finally named a street in his honor, Valli — now 88 — vividly detailed what the city meant to him in his youth.
“My family and I moved to Stephen Crane Village, Newark’s first low-income housing project, when I was 6,” he said. “Each unit was self-contained, like a garden apartment, and had two bedrooms and a bathroom, with real hardwood floors, steam heat and hot and cold running water.
“I remember at the time thinking we were rich and couldn’t believe we got to live there.”
Years later, Valli found a true life of fortune and fame. First as the frontman for the Four Seasons, beginning in 1960, and then as a solo artist. He used his unusually powerful lead falsetto voice to be part of 39 Top 40 hits, which sold 175 million records — including “December, 1963,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “My Eyes Adored You.”
His career took him around the world — and was the impetus for a Broadway show that became a movie, “Jersey Boys” — but Valli said he never forgot where he came from.
That’s why Thursday was such a big honor, he said.
“I always say, ‘You can take the guy out of the neighborhood, but you can’t take the neighborhood out of the guy,’” he said. “And I always take Newark with me no matter where I’ve traveled to.”
Joseph DiVincenzo (Essex County executive), Anibal Ramos Jr. (North Ward councilman), Luis Quintana (councilman at large), Steven Edwards (New Jersey Hall of Fame president), Jon Hanson (New Jersey Hall of Fame chairman), Philip Alagia (Essex County chief of staff) and others gathered at the corner of Stephen Crane Plaza and Franklin Avenue for the dedication.
Each had glowing words.
- DiVincenzco: “Newark loves you; the world loves you! Thank you for what you have done for all of us.”
- Ramos: “Frankie’s story represents an important part of Newark’s history. For the residents of Stephen Crane Village — thank you for letting us honor one of your sons in a special way.”
- Alagia: “As an Italian American growing up in Newark, I don’t think there is anyone more special, more that we appreciated, and idolized, than Frankie Valli. Frankie, you were the soundtrack that we all lived our lives by.”
- Hanson: “We are thrilled to be a part of this exciting and special day for New Jersey’s original Jersey Boy.”
- Edwards: “Frankie Valli exemplifies New Jersey grit and greatness. We congratulate him on this well-deserved honor for his contributions to his hometown, his state, his country and the world.”
Born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio in Newark in 1934, Valli was raised around the corner from where the dedication took place, on North Pine Lane in the Stephen Crane Housing Complex.
He is in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was honored in 2008 with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Italian American Foundation. He was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2010.
No matter how he is honored, Valli said he always will choose to be known as a son of Newark.
“To come back to the place where I grew up and see it renamed after me is one of the biggest honors of my life,” he said. “I thank all those who made it possible, especially the city of Newark and Mayor Ras Baraka.”