Stars in His Eyes

October 25, 2015



Andy Anselmo ’45 always had stars in his eyes. Growing up on Buffalo’s West Side, his beloved Aunt Mamie took him to the five-cent movies on Saturdays where he imagined rubbing elbows with celebrities from the silver screen. Anselmo set his mind to make that dream a reality and he had the voice to make it all possible.

Best known as the “voice coach to the stars,” Anselmo taught and performed with some of the greatest names in show business including Liza Minelli, Tony Bennett, Mandy Patinkin, Eartha Kitt and his all-time favorite, Geraldine Fitzgerald.

“I could tell the ones who were going to make it,” he says. “There is a particular energy had by people who are destined to do this kind of work.”

Anselmo is one of them. He wanted to sing “from the day he was born.” That insatiable ambition took hold by age eight when Anselmo began performing at local nightclubs. “Everyone showed up on the weekends to hear me sing – relatives, friends and neighbors.”

Anselmo fine-tuned his passion at the Community Music School of Buffalo. Though his parents encouraged their son’s singing career, they also insisted he obtain a college education. Anselmo attended Canisius on scholarship. To help pay the balance of his tuition, he performed on “Armed Forces Mail Call,” a radio program that entertained American soldiers during World War II. Anselmo was accompanied by a 12-piece orchestra.

That’s when he knew he was on the right track. He says: “I thought then, ‘Hey, I can do this as a profession.’”

Anselmo earned a degree in pre-law from Canisius and went on to study music at the New England Conservatory in Boston under William L. Whitney, “one of the greatest singers of the early 1900s.” Whitney taught Anselmo the bel canto method, a scientific approach to singing practiced by 18th century Italians.

Whitney’s influence carried Anselmo far. He sang on Broadway in prestigious venues such as the Palace Theatre in New York and The Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. He performed on “The Jackie Gleason Show” and the “Phyllis Diller Show,” until one day actor and comedian Charles Nelson Reilly offered Anselmo a piece of advice.

“He said ‘You should teach people to sing,’” Anselmo says. “I never intended to teach but those words were life-changing for me.”

In 1978, Anselmo and the late pianist and composer John Harris co-founded the Singer’s Forum, which offered classes and seminars dedicated to the development of vocal arts. Anselmo taught the basic principles of singing (“how to breathe, where to place the sound, how to free the throat and the need for real energy”) to Liza, Tony and Eartha, as well as Joanne Woodward, Regis Philbin and Mary Tyler Moore. Pictures of him with the famous faces he coached are on the walls of his Williamsville home.

Now 91, Anselmo is retired though he continues to foster the vocal talents of potential young performers. The Andy Anselmo ’45 Endowed Music Scholarship that he founded at Canisius in 2004 supports students who pursue studies in vocal music.

His advice to them: “If you can visualize your goals, you can make them come true.”

Anselmo’s star-crossed life is a testament to that.

Click here to read more of Canisius Magazine's interview with Andy Anselmo.