Otosclerosis meets the Falsetto

Robert Traynor
October 20, 2017

In the late 1950s and early 1960s musical groups in cities all over the US were singing Doo-Wop songs and jazzing up old songs.  While most of these singing groups folded and the people went their separate ways, while some actually hit the “big time” and became famous. 

One person that seemed to be one of these “golden boys” was born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio to a middle class Italian family on May 3, 1934 in Newark, New Jersey as their youngest son.  Francesco grew up in the Stephen Crane Village, a public housing project on the tough streets in Newark.  His father, Anthony Castelluccio was a barber by trade and later worked for the Lionel Train Company while his Italian-born mother, Mary Rinaldi, worked for a local beer company. From a young age, Francesco’s mother nurtured his love of music  encouraging his interest in jazz, doo-wop and soul music.  Not much is known about his early childhood or educational past, at least publically, but Francesco got his first real touch of music going with his mother to a Frank Sinatra concert at the age of 7 inspiring his aspiration to become a musician.  Young Castelluccio’s musical interests, however, were not limited to Sinatra they grew to be quite extensive and broad but were dominated by jazz.   In particular, he was drawn to the 4 Freshmen, the Hi-Los and Modernaires. He was also very familiar with Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker as well as vocalists Sarah Vaughn, Little Jimmy Scott and Nellie Lutcher. It is alleged that his high falsettos voice was modeled from Rose Murphy, Dinah Washington, and Little Willie John .  Additionally he was also influenced by the R & B records of such groups as the Clovers and Drifters.  Like many other young aspiring musicians, Francesco worked as a barber to make money until he was able earn his living as a musician listening.  Street corners in Belleville, New Jersey in the 50’s were live with these doo-wop groups.  There were also school bands and occasional bookings in local nightclubs. Francesco Stephen Castelluccio begins his recording career in 1953 with a song for his mother called “My Mother’s Eyes”.  In 2014, Francesco put it this way, I was always standing on the corner near our apartment singing harmony with friends. We’d also go to the park and sing under the bridge near the lake for the echo. When it was cold out, we’d stand in the little heated lobby in the project’s administration building, where my mom paid the rent each month… At school, I’d sing in groups in the locker room or in the bathroom, which was like an echo chamber.” 

Sometime in the 1950’s, Francesco changed his name to Frankie Valli and began his gradual climb of the musical ladder, singing acapella versions of Country and Western songs, as well as rockabilly, pop, and Italian ballads.  Working through a number of low level gigs and tough times as well as mild successes with The Four Lovers until he hit is big as the main man of the band The Four Seasons, in the early 1960s. One of the best-selling musical groups of all time, having sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide, The Four Seasons’ hits include; Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, Ragdoll, Sherry and December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night). Click on the songs to listen to Frankie’s signature falsetto voice).  Later was involved in Grease and number of other ventures, including the very popular Broadway play, Jersey Boys.  Frankie and his colleagues from the Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.  Over the years, Valli has continued to tour with different iterations of The Four Seasons and tried acting as well, including an appearance on the TV series The Sopranos.

 Great Tunes But So What?

Throughout his musical career Frankie Valli has enjoyed incredible success, the area of largest concern was his hearing. In the latter part of the 60’s he developed otosclerosis, an incurable ear disease caused by a build up of calcium deposits, which leads to deafness. Not the sort of thing you’d wish upon anyone but particularly a singer. It got so bad that Frankie couldn’t hear himself on stage, it was like singing in a vacuum. To be able to mount a professional show in that condition, and to carry it off time and again as he did, without any audience awareness, was a tribute to the professionalism of all concerned. Recording sessions weren’t much better, with the volume on his headphones set to a level that would not have been tenable for someone with “normal” hearing. When the problem grew to a point where he knew something was wrong, accompanied by Bob Gaudio he toured the national rounds of hearing specialists, only to be turned away time and again and to be told, “Can’t help”. Eventually they found someone who was prepared to give it a go and after a series of delicate operations, his hearing was substantially restored. But it was a time of great depression for him and the level of distress this affliction caused him and the potential consequences of it for him personally and professionally is not something that should be either underestimated or understated.  Frankie said, “In 1967, I found out I was losing my hearing. I went 10 years without any help.”  Valli says of his hearing loss, “I had otosclerosis-hardening of the bone in the middle of the ear. Dr. Victor Goodhill did the surgery and it saved my life. He went to the bone bank at UCLA and made me a new stapes bone for each ear. He brought my hearing from about 35% in one ear to about 98%, and a year later operated on the other ear and brought it up to 87%. That was a moment of truth for me”.  By 1980 he was back entertaining again with his restored hearing.  

 Here’s one more from his solo career!  Thanks Dr Goodhill for bringing Frankie Valli back to entertain us for a lifetime!




Biography.com authors (2016).  Frankie Valli Biography.  Retrieved October 18, 2017.

Frankie Valli (2017).  Frankie Valli Website.  Retrieved October 18, 2017.

Miller, S. (2017).  Biography: Francis Stephen Castelluccio aka Frankie Valli.  Retrieved October 18, 2017.


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