The ties and the relationships you build with people who have been a part of your life for many, many years can help to inspire, motivate and, even, create opportunities for you. These associations can also be the nemesis for a successful future. Such is the case with Henry Casella who would one day come to be known by the legendary
name of “King Henry” of “King Henry and the Showmen”.
Henry Casella graduated from Easton High School in 1957. Throughout his high school years he played in a little band with his brother, Charlie, who was a trumpet player. Speaking fondly of his
brother, Henry explained the actual start of his career, with a smile and a laugh. “Charlie actually formed the first band but then when he went off to college, I took over.
When he came back, I didn’t let him have the band back! It was my band. He eventually gave up playing the trumpet to become a psychologist!” The band’s original name was the Charlie Casella Orchestra but when Henry took it over he re-named it, calling his group “The Showmen”.
King Henry and the Showmen
Throughout the years that Henry was in college, he had the foresight to keep his band going. (Maybe he had learned quickly from his
brother’s demise.) Back then, Lou Reda was an agent for many talented performers in the area and it was Lou who had the foresight to see that Henry’s group needed a name that would create more recognition. A band called “Prince Charles and the Kingsters” had come to Easton in the early 60s to perform.
That name became the inspiration for Lou, who suggested that Henry rename his group “King Henry and the Showmen” and over the past forty years that name has become legendary here in the Lehigh Valley and throughout the Poconos as one of the best in entertainment. The original musicians in the “King Henry and the Showmen” of the 1960s were a group of three young men from New Jersey plus Henry and his brother, Charlie.
Although Henry had started out as a drummer in his early days as a musician, he preferred playing bass in his group. “I started on drums and I played drums for awhile. But then, I didn’t like to be in the back so I learned how to play bass and I started to play bass with the
band and a little piano, too.” Today Henry has become even more diversified and is able to play close to a dozen different instruments.
Despite the popularity of “King Henry and the Showmen” in its early years, Henry did not make the entertainment business his career until ten years later, in 1971.
That was the year that Henry and his wife, Rose Marie, decided to see if he could make music his full-time business. Henry had made his profession as a special education teacher in Coopersburg, PA up to that point, playing in his band only on nights and weekends. In 1971 Henry took a one-year sabbatical from teaching.
He and Rose Marie worked together that year to see how successful they could be taking care of their family from the money Henry made with his band. It turned out to be a good year for the family and Henry’s long, successful career in performing and entertaining people was on its way. In just a few years following this, Henry’s Italian heritage would play a tremendous role in furthering the remarkable success of “King Henry and the Showmen”.
The influence of Henry’s Italian roots on the music performed by “King Henry and the Showmen” took center stage quite by accident. As Henry explained, “The first time we played ‘Oh Marie’ at Mount Airy Lodge we got a reaction that I couldn’t believe. I said to myself, ‘Why are people liking this song?’ I realized that a lot of the people that were there were Italian and they loved Italian music.
Then we started putting more Italian songs into the act and doing
more Italian material and as we started doing more Italian songs, more Italian people started coming to Mount Airy Lodge.” That one song, “Oh Marie”, the song that would prove to eventually catapult the successful forty-year career of “King Henry and the Showmen”, has had a very special place in Henry’s musical memories.
Nick Pintande, another well-known musician in the Lehigh Valley throughout the early 1950s, who played in a long ago popular group called “The Vagabonds”, is the man who taught Henry how to play drums. He’s also the man who placed the song, “Oh Marie” in Henry’s repertoire of musical memories.
“Nick was my first drum teacher. My dad used to pay him to come to our house to teach me how to play drums. That half hour lesson used to turn into three hours. He would bring his guitar and play and sing and I would play the drums. One of the songs Nick always used to sing was ‘Oh Marie’. I remembered that song over all those years and then I heard Louie Prima’s upbeat version of it. That’s what got me interested in doing ‘Oh Marie’.”
Today, “ King Henry and the Showmen” are more popular and well recognized than ever before. They headline several Italian festivals every year, offering a full repertoire of Italian music and comedy acts with Italian-based themes, as do their weekly shows in Jim Thorpe, at Tamiment in the Poconos and at the Westgate Mall in Bethlehem, Pa.