Obituary: George Michael Mantalis / A member of hit singing group The Four Coins
Dec. 22, 1934 - Dec. 10, 2016 |
December 13, 2016 9:53 PM
The Four Coins during their heyday in the 1950s and 60s.
A photo from 2004 showing The Four Coins.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Four Coins was all George Michael Mantalis needed to make his way around the world.
Over the course of his career, the tenor for the hit-making quartet, who died Saturday of lung cancer at 81 at Allegheny General Hospital, performed for John and Jackie Kennedy, met Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, traveled to the Far East and got to enjoy a late-life resurgence with his old mates.
Before they were the Four Coins, Mr. Mantalis, a sax player, Jimmy Gregorakis, and brothers George and Jack Mahramas were musicians in Bobby Vinton and His Band of Tomorrow in 1952 while they still in high school. During the holiday season that year, the four members, who were brothers and cousins, started singing street-corner harmonies, inspired by The Four Aces and The Four Lads.
“When the guy booked us at the Blue Ridge Inn [on Saw Mill Run Boulevard], we only knew two songs,” said Mr. Gregorakis. “And then we’d learn another, and another.”
During a trip to Cincinnati, set up by local orchestra leader Lee Barrett, The Four Keys (as they were called then) were discovered by Columbia Records exec Danny Kessler, who signed them and changed their name to the Four Coins, a play on the Four Aces’ hit “Three Coins in the Fountain.”
They had their first hit in 1954 with “We’ll Be Married (In the Church in the Wildwood)” and followed with a few other minor ones before breaking through in 1957 with their first and only million-seller, the swelling ballad “Shangri-La.” In all they would have 10 gold records.
“Shangri-La” gained them a role in the movie “Jamboree” along with Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, and they were featured on "American Bandstand,” “The Perry Como Show,” “The Ed Sullivan Show” and many others.
Along the way, they met and performed with all the big stars of the era. “We didn't think about taking pictures with those guys, because we thought it would last forever,” Mr. Gregorakis said, but they did get one with Elvis, at the club owner’s suggestion, when the King came to see them in Biloxi, Miss.
During the Four Coins heyday, Mr. Mantalis also served in the U.S. Army and married his high school sweetheart Jeanne Bell, with whom he had a son and two daughters.
The Coins spent 15 years on the road, playing the country’s top nightclubs, including the Vegas casinos and the Copacabana in New York, and touring as far as Japan and Hong Kong.
By 1970, said Ms. Mantalis, “They felt that they were neglecting their families and wanted to come home.” She says her children, who were approaching middle-school age, “truly missed their father.”
When the Four Coins disbanded, the Mantalis’ opened George and Jean’s Restaurant, a breakfast and lunch spot in Canonsburg, where the whole family worked. In the ‘80s, they moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., where he opened a cellular phone company.
His daughter Darcy was too young to remember him performing, but said, “He used to sing to us in the car. I grew up on all those old songs.”
In 2003, she got her chance to see the Four Coins. After a 33-year hiatus, the quartet, at the urging of their families, reunited to play a concert at the Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse in Hanover.
“It sounded like we never quit,” Mr. Gregorakis said. “We went to rehearse, and walked in and just started singing our parts. You don’t forget.”
It led to more gigs, including a good-paying residency in Palm Springs, Calif., and the taping of a PBS special at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
Mr. Gregorakis, who was gathered with the other three Coins at the visitation in Canonsburg this week, said that Mr. Mantalis was “the jokester who always had everyone laughing.”
“He was a star to me,” Ms. Mantalis said. “A rock star, a pop star. And he died as a star to me.”
In addition to his wife, Jeanne, and daughter, Darcy, Mr. Mantalis is survived by a son, Michael of Canonsburg; a daughter, Tamara Achille of West Palm Beach, Fla.,; a brother, Gus of Canonsburg; two sisters, Mary Karavelis of Canonsburg and Ann Koutavis of St. Augustine Fla.; and two grandsons.
Funeral arrangements were by Salandra Funeral and Cremation Services, Canonsburg. Burial was in Woodruff Memorial Park, Canonsburg.
The family suggests memorial donations to Iconography Fund, All Saints Greek Orthodox Church, 601 W. McMurray Road, Canonsburg.
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576.