MELAKA: In the early 1970s, an Afro-haired young man was invited by the parish priest of the St Peter’s Church here to sing with the choir during a “pop mass” event.
The late Father Augusto Sendim surprised everyone with his celebrity invite, popular family-friendly entertainer Antonio Franco de Costa.
Tony Franco sang the uplifting Ray Steven’s hit “Everything is Beautiful” backed by the 50-strong church choir that included the Singho brothers, Jude and Jerry who later gained fame with the country and western powerhouse band, Os Pombos.
Father Augusto beamed as the congregation was spellbound with Tony Franco’s delivery of the hug-the-world ballad, backed by the choir that opened the song with the first two lines of a standard bible school hymn “Jesus Loves the Little Children”
That “pop mass”, a service largely focused on the youth, remains a vivid memory for then president of the church choir Michael Singho, the oldest of the brothers.
“His rendition of the song was incomparable and will forever be etched in the minds and hearts of many,” said Michael as he spoke to FMT about the life of Tony Franco who died on Wednesday.
Crooner Tony Franco died at age 73 after a battle with cancer.
Michael, who is Malacca Portuguese-Eurasian Association president, said Tony Franco was an “admirable son of the community and hero to fishermen”.
He recalled an incident in the 70s when Tony Franco dived into rough waters to recover a fishing boat adrift off the coast of Bandar Hilir in Melaka as a worried crowd looked on.
He swam about half kilometre to the boat and steadied it, to the relief of fishermen who might have lost their source of income had the vessel capsized.
“He was a humble, decent and non-assuming person who always carried a warm engaging smile,” said Michael.
Melaka music legend, Don Beins, said as a balladeer Tony Franco was a toast among musicians from the Melaka Portuguese Eurasian community.
Tony Franco, he said, held centrestage with his band, Brothers Hawk, at Melaka’s Latin Quarter Club and other nightclubs through the 70s and 80s.
Don recalled that Tony Franco did not need an introduction when his group that included the late Francis Theseira on saxophone backed him at an event involving Melaka musicians five years ago.
“The crowd knew it was Tony as he sang the opening strains of Il Mondo while coming on stage,” said Don, a mainstay of The Cellar Hi-Five – one of Malaysia’s top bands in the 70s
It was the same song, made popular by Engelbert Humperdinck, that earned him runner-up to Frankie Cheah at a RTM-sponsored southern talentime and got him a recording contract.
As a recording artiste, he hit national spotlight with his rendition of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”
Don said Tony Franco’s five-piece band, Sweet Memories, often headlined Peranakan (Baba and Nyonya) events in Melaka and Penang.
“In January, he was ill and bleeding, but he insisted on performing at a Peranakan function in Penang. That’s his testimony to his love for music,” said Don.
Tony Franco’s remains will be cremated at the Melaka Memorial Park this morning.