Big Bald Guy kept audiences dancing and laughing
He sang from Las Vegas to New Port Richey, ending shows with God Bless America.
By STEPHANIE HAYES
Published July 15, 2007
"That Big Bald Guy," Joe Grauso was a musician in Las Vegas until he met his wife Marge. They decided on a fresh start in Florida, where Grauso went from singing in big casinos to entertaining at Elks lodges and mobile home parks.
[Times photo: Brendan Fitterer (2005)]
[Times photo: Lance Aram Rothstein (2005)]
After going into remission from breast cancer, Joe Grauso started playing racquetball three times a week at Richey Racquet. His memorial service will be July 28.
NEW PORT RICHEY - His real name simply wouldn't do.
Someone with Joe Grauso's singing voice needed a special moniker. Something memorable. Something larger than life.
He was big -- 6 feet 4, 270 pounds. Not a hair on his head.
His wife thought up the winning name. She made a sign for his new one-man band.
People would come to know him.
That Big Bald Guy.
- - -
In Las Vegas, his audiences were big, like the city. Gamblers, tourists, flashy executives.
For a gospel singer from Akron, Ohio, it was all a little much.
He sang in a swing group called Sin City Suitz, managed by one of Elvis Presley's musical directors. He flourished on stage. But to the devout Christian, Vegas felt hollow, impersonal, cold.
He met Marge. She was a former body builder and a coupon book executive. And a "degenerate gambler."
Vegas was sucking her dry, too.
Marge and Joe got hitched. It was her first marriage, Joe's fifth.
It was time for a fresh start. Joe had just the place in mind.
"Want to go to Florida?"
- - -
In Florida, Joe played to a different crowd. Elks lodges, veterans clubs and mobile home parks replaced the big casinos.
His new showgoers had cotton hair. Some were ill and troubled. Lonely and bored. Been through world wars.
He would plink the keyboard and launch into a song - Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Elvis.
He had a broad range. "Magical" tone, said Marge.
Slowly, people would look up from their dinners. Hey, he's not bad at all.
Soon, they'd be on their feet. Octogenarians, dancing and laughing.
Old ladies would swoon. "Does he sing to you at home?" they would ask Marge.
And like that, they came to know That Big Bald Guy.
- - -
Eight years ago, Joe felt something in his chest -- "a little vacuum," Marge said.
"People were so blown away," Marge said. "He was this larger-than-life figure."
In 1999, he had a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy. He went into remission.
In 2005, it came back, spreading into his lungs and, later, his bones.
Fans banded together to raise money for Joe, who was uninsured.
In 2005, New Port Richey's Elks Lodge 2284 put on a benefit, and 430 people showed up.
Joe arrived just before the start. He couldn't find a parking space.
In the car, he cried.
- - -
At the end of each show, Joe sang God Bless America. Everyone would get up and hold hands, Marge said.
Thursday, That Big Bald Guy succumbed to cancer. He was 55.
Marge expects fans, friends, and those who begged him to never change the final song to attend a memorial service on July 28.
She'll give them what they want.
At the end, Marge will play God Bless America.
That Big Bald Guy, of course.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 893-8857.
Born: May 21, 1952.
Died: July 12, 2007.
Survivors: Wife, Marge; mother, Thelma Louise; daughter, Felicia; son, Jeremy; his sister, Carol, and her family in Oceanside, Calif.; brother, John; and family in Alpharetta, Ga.
Services: Public service at 2 p.m. July 28 at St. Mark's Presbyterian Church, 7922 State Road 52, Hudson. In lieu of flowers, send donations to Hernando-Pasco Hospice in Grauso's name.
[Last modified July 14, 2007, 22:58:44]
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