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Morelli, Antonio, 1904-1974


Longtime orchestra conductor at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, Anotonio Morelli worked throughout his life to bring music to the public and provide music education through his scholarship fund at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Anthony "Tony" Morelli was born on July 22, 1904 in Rochester, New York, but grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, as one of nine children. His father took him to Italy in 1914 to be educated, first briefly in Milan's San Celso Military Academy and then at the Royal Conservatories of Music in Milan and Parma. Returning to the United States in 1925, Morelli traveled the country as a pianist, promoted vaudeville acts, and wrote music and arrangements for theater productions, including several Radio City Music Hall productions. He also conducted theater and civic orchestras around the country throughout the 1930s and 1940s. When he married Helen Collins in 1935, he was the orchestra leader for the newly opened RKO Palace Theater in Albany, New York.

Morelli first visited Las Vegas, Nevada in 1953 with the Olsen and Johnson comedy team. Jack Entratter, the Sands Hotel president and impresario, offered Morelli a position as the hotel's new musical director and the following year Morelli stepped into a newly minted realm of entertainment where he became known as "Antonio" Morelli. Entratter, who had known Morelli from the Copacabana Club in New York City, believed that Morelli's reputation as a classically trained musician and his courtly demeanor would bring a polish that would attract a wealthy and well educated audience to see the performances.

Though never a major headliner in Las Vegas show business, Morelli exemplified the new culture of entertainers that helped turn Las Vegas into a popular entertainment venue. The billing on the Sands Hotel sign read "Antonio Morelli and his Orchestra." He worked with all the great entertainers of the day and also played a role in the Rat Pack appearances at the Sands in 1960. In films of the performances, Morelli can be glimpsed as the tall, smiling, mustachioed bandleader behind the Rat Pack's antics.

Soon after his arrival in Las Vegas he produced and conducted free Las Vegas Pops concerts call "Shirt Sleeve Symphonies." He composed and conducted special religious liturgical services for the public as well as those for civic holiday events. With a lead gift of $5000, Morelli initiated the Antonio Morelli Friends of Music Scholarships for young musicians at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A devout Catholic, he commissioned several stained glass windows for the Diocese and the Guardian Angel Catholic Church. Antonio Morelli died on June 17, 1974 in Las Vegas, Nevada.