#47: Robbin’ The Cradle by Tony Bellus
Anthony J. Bellusci was born in Chicago in 1936. On his debut album, NRC Records wrote “Tony has been a professional entertainer since he was fifteen years old. Graduating from Bradley, Illinois High, he was offered scholarships in both teaching and dramatics. He was not long in making up his mind, and immediately checked in at the famed Goodman Theatre in Chicago for the basic training in dramatics that has been of so much value to him in his personal appearances.”
As early as Sept. 22, 1957, Chicago Tribune entertainment columnist Will Leonard wrote, “Tony Bellus, a Bradley, Ill., boy, is making good in the big city. An accordionist and vocalist at the Caribbean Room of the Hyde Park Hotel, he is said to have signed more autographs since his Sept. 11 opening than any other accordionist-vocalist on the south side.” By late 1958, he had moved his act downtown to the Preview Show Lounge near State and Randolph streets, which advertised, “Opening Tonight: Tony Bellus, Rock ‘n’ Roll Record Artist.”
In 1957-58, Bellus released two singles on Samson Records. But they were commercial flops. Bellus was signed to NRC Records in 1958. The following year released his first NRC single, “Robbin’ The Cradle”. Bellus had just turned 23 as his debut single began to climb the Billboard Hot 100 on April 27, 1959.
“Robbin’ The Cradle” was written by Tony Bellus. The NRC Record liner notes on his debut album, Robbin’ The Cradle, trumpet the arrival of Bellus onto the music scene:
With his first big record…Robbin’ The Cradle…the title song of this album, Tony Bellus hit the music world with all the impact of Haley’s Comet landing on Michigan Boulevard. Yet, this was not one of the frequent “lucky shots” that aspiring artists have hit. It was the culmination of many years of practice, work, and experience. It was the end of a long, hard trail beginning with church entertainments and high school programs. A trail that steadily would upward through singing on Midwestern County Fair circuits in rain or shine, through radio programs and finally into the polish of top flight night Clubs.
In presenting “Robbin’ The Cradle” NRC brings you a selection of music quite different from anything you have ever heard. They all have one thing in common – the Baby Sound. From “Pretty Baby” to “Young Girls” which represent the oldest and newest in published music. Tony and his group have come up with new sounds, new beats and new interpretations. May we sincerely urge that you keep an eye and an ear on this young Artist who is destined for an important niche among top International Stars of song – TONY BELLUS.
Other tracks on the album included “Growing Up”, “Sleep, Baby, Sleep”, a cover of the Al Jolson hit “Baby Face”, the 1920 number-one Ted Lewis tune “When My Baby Smiles At Me”, a cover of the 1925 Gene Austin hit “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”, “Everybody Loves My Baby” and a cover of the 1921 Marion Harris hit “Nobody’s Baby”.
In “Robbin’ The Cradle” the intro lets listeners know what motivated the lyrics: “A broken heart is why I sing this song to you. So you and all the world would know why I have let you go.” The reason is everyone thinks he’s robbing the cradle, because she is so young. He’s told he’s “outta line” for wanting “to make you mine.” However, he protests: “But what very few people know, that we planned everything just so.” He objects to those criticizing the romance: “Is it strange for true love to be so young?”
Tony Bellus appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on April 20, 1959. “Robbin’ The Cradle” eventually climbed to #25 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Robbin’ The Cradle” peaked at #1 in Toronto, #2 in Ottawa (ON) and Vancouver (BC) and Eau Claire (WI), #3 in La Crosse (WI) and Minneapolis/St. Paul, #4 in Newport News (VA), #6 in London (ON), #7 in Norfolk (VA) and Seattle, #8 in Denver, #9 in Colorado Springs (CO), #10 in Edmonton (AB), #11 in Milwaukee (WI), #12 in Chicago, and #17 in Montreal.
His second album, Gems of Tony Bellus, were effusive about his promise as a recording star. “Although Tony plays the guitar and plays it well, his primary instrument of accompaniment is the accordion and what he does to the old squeeze box is sheer magic. This plus a pair of pipes that really sing and that indefinable quality known as showmanship makes Tony the personality that he is. Of Italian descent Tony loves the music of his forebearers’ homeland and plays the lilting and semi-classical songs with real heart. He not only digs it, but presents it with a solid beat, an example of which this album is.
Bellus released a followup single titled “Hey Little Darlin'”, one of the tracks from Gems of Tony Bellus. It peaked at #9 in Utica (NY) and charted in Montreal and Duluth (MN), but failed to catch on. Concurrently, “Young Girls” from his debut album, made the Top 40 in Minneapolis/St. Paul. But, it too failed to get chart action elsewhere. In the spring of 1960, “The End Of My Love” made it to #9 in Grand Rapids (MI) and the Top 20 in Chicago. Bellus’ last recording effort to make a splash on any radio market was a cover of the 1956 hit by the Platters called “The Great Pretender”. But, he only got a spin at WKRG in Mobile, Alabama.
Tony Bellus’ record label, National Recording Corporation, went bankrupt on April 27, 1961. This hampered his career, together with being drafted into the United States Army. A few more singles were released into the mid-60’s but with no commercial success.
Nonetheless, in the 1960s and 1970s, Bellus was a singing sensation throughout the Chicago area nightclub scene. He was a mainstay performer appearing nightly at Fritzel’s restaurant at the corner of State and Lake Streets in downtown Chicago. Fritzel’s was a personal favorite of local and visiting celebrities and dignitaries.
In 1975, music critic Will Leonard wrote, “If one goes cabareting around Chicago, one is going to run into Tony Bellus — and it’s always a pleasure. He’s been cruising around the innumerable lounges of Chicago’s suburbia in recent seasons, accordion operating as tirelessly as his smile. Tony … communicates wonderfully and warmly. He’s as big as a stevedore but as mild as a lamb, and his sense of humor matches his musicality.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, Bellus continued composing music, also performing at beach hotels and restaurants on the west coast of Florida, where he had relocated from the Chicago area.
Over the past three decades, Bellus and his spouse, Tammy, have lived in Florida. They focus their attention on making Christian music to “lift up the Lord Jesus Christ in song.”
In December 2015, Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois) columnist Tony Yonke penned a piece about Tony Bellus. On January 2, 2016, Yonke wrote about the response to his column. In it he cited several phone messages and emails he’d received. One of these was from Ken R. Smith who wrote, “As a Journal reader, your piece on Tony Bellus caught my eye, and in reading it, I went back many years to when he was a headliner at the Tri-K … as a youngster I recall hearing the ad for him on WKAN between the Ray Coniff and Andy Williams songs, and the only line I ever heard from ‘Robbin the Cradle’ was the signature line literally hundreds of times … only after reading your story did I look it up and listen to the whole song, and I gotta tell you, I have listened to it several times a day every day since then… you talk about a song ahead of its time, this is one.”
March 22, 2023
Jack Klasey, “Tony Bellus a Bradley Boy who Climbed the Billboard Charts,” Daily Journal, Kankakee, Illinois, October 13, 2018.
Tony Yonke, “Arousing Old Memories of Tony Bellus,” Daily Journal, Kankakee, Illinois, January 2, 2016.
“Sensational Sixty,” CKWX 1130 AM, Vancouver, BC, August 10, 1959.