BRISTOL – Professional crooner Steve Lippia performs upwards of 100 shows a year in about 100 cities across the United States. He also has toured Europe, Latin America and Canada. But he is still flooded with memories of the early ’70s when he was a student at St. Paul Catholic High School.
“Father Edmund O’Brien was the principal back then,” said Mr. Lippia, who sings American standards from the swing era to today. “The first day I came into the school, I was walking near the principal’s office. The office had glass on two sides of it so he could see out, and as I was walking down the hallway near the office, Father O’Brien – whom I had never met until that moment on the first day of school – was standing out there and greeting everybody, and he says, ‘Good morning, Mr. Lippia.’”
Father O’Brien had studied photos of all the incoming students and had memorized all of their names.
“He had an amazing mind, and he still does,” said Mr. Lippia, a Southington native now living in Las Vegas.
As he prepares for a May 8 concert at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, Mr. Lippia recalled his days as a St. Paul student. “I still stay in touch with a lot of people from my old high school days. A lot of them were also from Southington originally,” the 1974 graduate said in a telephone interview.
In a follow-up email, he wrote that he and his sister, Marijane, chose to attend St. Paul’s. “My parents didn’t coax us. We could have gone to Southington High School but we knew there was something very special about St. Paul. We wanted an opportunity to grow, spiritually, academically and socially in a caring environment that encouraged people to pursue excellence. Father O’Brien and the teachers at St. Paul were truly dedicated to giving us the tools for us to realize our potential as young adults.”
After graduating from St. Paul, Mr. Lippia concentrated on psychology and English literature at Central Connecticut State College (now University). He also studied law at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. But he found his real passion in singing, which he’s been doing professionally for about 15 years.
His concert at the Palace is titled “Simply Sinatra” and will feature standards made famous by Frank Sinatra and a few other legendary crooners. “We’ll be there performing with a great 10-piece band. It’ll be comprised of some of my core players and some of the top players of Connecticut that we work with when we’re in that neck of the woods. It will be conducted by my music director, Steve Sigmund, who was a 17-year veteran with Ray Charles and his orchestra,” he said.
Though he focuses on the American standards and the singers who popularized them, he said he is not an impersonator. “I’m just a singer of standards, like Tony Bennett is. He doesn’t do anybody; he does Tony Bennett. I do Steve Lippia. But, my voice is similar to that of Sinatra’s naturally; it sounds like his voice; and I use musical arrangements that are similar to his,” Mr. Lippia explained. He has worked closely with Vincent Falcone Jr., who was music director with Mr. Sinatra.
Mr. Lippia also sings the standards of Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Joel, Elton John, Mel Tormé and others, he said.
“Remember, one of the reasons that they became known as the standards is that they were sung by all the great singers of the day. There were people who did the writing and there were people who did the singing and never the twain shall meet. Sinatra for the most part was not a writer. Tony Bennett definitely was not. Tormé dabbled, did some writing – he was a multitalented guy – but most singers just sang and they found songs by great writers and hoped to record hits.”
That changed with the rock era, he said, but not because singers necessarily became better writers. “People saw the opportunity to make money in royalties,” he said. They would get paid for performing the song, and they would get paid again whenever someone else sang it.
Cary M. Dupont, president of St. Paul Catholic High School, said Mr. Lippia performed his “Come Fly With Me” concert as a fund-raiser for the school on June 27, 2010. “His commitment to St. Paul’s is still very strong, as is evidenced by his coming back and doing that for us,” he said.
Michael Baker was a classmate of Mr. Lippia’s at St. Paul’s and, before that, at St. Thomas Junior High School in Southington, where they both were on the basketball team. After school, members of the team would make the two-minute walk to Mr. Baker’s house and shoot hoops in the driveway. “We’d play three-on-three and all that, and while we’re doing that, Steve’s inside with my dad listening to the big bands – you know, Count Basie, Mel Tormé, Dorsey, Woody Herman, all of them.”
Mr. Baker’s father – Patrick Baker, owner of Patrick Baker & Sons, supplier of religious items and church furnishings – told Michael, “You know, your friend Steve Lippia will never make it as a basketball player, but I can guarantee you one thing: he’ll make it in the music industry with the big band sound.”
Another St. Paul classmate and Southington native, Jonathan Putnam, was in the chorus with Mr. Lippia and also a barbershop quartet. “He always had an interest in music,” Mr. Putnam said. He said Mr. Lippia always loved the big band sound. “We would always play records at his house and that’s what we would listen to, that and Sinatra. He does Sinatra so well that that has become the mainstay of the work that he does.”
Mr. Putnam has attended his classmate’s concerts all up and down the East Coast and in Las Vegas. “I never get tired of it,” he said.
Father O’Brien, now retired from active ministry, said, “I remember Steve well. He was first and foremost, and is now, a wonderful human being who had a host of friends at the school when he was a student and was in addition a good student and devoted to the faith.”
He said that when Mr. Lippia performed in school variety shows, “many of us wondered if Steve would go into a professional career, his voice was so exceptional. And that’s what happened.”