Music world mourns loss of Falls native and Grammy winner April Stevens

Apr. 22—When she was born in Niagara Falls, her parents named her Caroline Vincinette LoTempio.

Over the course of her life, she became better known to the world as a talented singer and performer who used the stage name April Stevens.

The Grammy award winner and Niagara Falls Music Hall of Fame inductee passed away on April 17 in Phoenix, Arizona, less than two weeks before what would have been her 94th birthday.

Her cousin, Salvatore Arnone of Lewiston recalled her as not only a lovely woman with a beautiful voice but also as a genuine person who never lost touch with her Niagara Falls roots.

"Over and above her notoriety and stardom, she never forgot where she came from," Arnone said.

"She never forget her family," he added. "She was always back in town visiting and that was very important to her, staying with the family."

Before they had hits on the radio and received a Grammy Award for Best Rock and Roll Recording for their 1963 duet "Deep Purple," Stevens and her brother, Antonino LoTempio, known in the music world as Nino Tempo, lived in Niagara Falls.

Arnone said it was their mother, his aunt Anna, who made the decision to move the family out west so Stevens and her brother could take a chance at finding stardom.

"Many many years ago, our grandfather bought a home in California and my aunt wanted to take them out there because they did a couple of talent contests out here and they liked what they saw," Arnone said. "My aunt wanted to pursue it because she knew they had talent."

Aunt Anna's intuition proved right.

Stevens recorded her first songs when she was 22. In 1951, her RCA Victor recording of "I'm in Love Again," with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, reached No. 6 on the pop chart. Later that year, she had another Top 10 song, "Gimme Me a Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh?" following by a third release, "And so to Sleep Again," which made it to No. 27 on the charts.

In 1959, her song, "Teach Me Tiger," which was written by her brother caused a stir because it was considered sexually suggestive at the time. While some radio stations refused to play it, the song did manage to reach No. 86 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year.

It was her work with her brother that garnered even more hits and attention for Stevens.

Tempo was a highly sought-after session musician and a members of the famed Wrecking Crew, a collection of Los Angeles-based musicians that is considered one of the most successful session recording units in history. The Crew also featured fellow Niagara Falls native and guitarist Tommy Tedesco.

"Anytime Frank (Sinatra) was recording, the only one he wanted for sax was my cousin Nino," Arnone said.

In 1963, Stevens and Tempo teamed up to record "Deep Purple" for Atco Records. The tune was a big hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Nov. 16, 1963. In addition to earning a Grammy, the song sold more than one million copies.

"She always tell me the story when they went to the Grammys she never thought they would be nominated," Arnone said. "When they announced it, she had a mouth full of food."

In 1964, Stevens and Tempo had a follow-up hit with "Whispering," a song that reached No. 11 on the Hot 100 singles chart. The song was followed by "All Strung Out," which reached No. 26 on the American Hot 100 chart in 1966.

Over the course of their careers, Stevens and Tempo appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the Perry Como show and "American Bandstand." They also performed with the Beach Boys, the Righteous Brothers and Sonny & Cher and became regular performers at Harrah's in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe, the Copacabana in New York City and clubs across England.

Arnone said his cousins developed a lot of friendships in the music and movie industry. He said the late actor Cary Grant was a regular visitor for Sunday dinner because he liked Aunt Anna's spaghetti sauce.

Of all her many accomplishments and life experiences, Arnone said Stevens considered one the most thrilling of all.

In 1994, the U.S. Air Force asked for permission to play "Teach Me Tiger" as a morning wakeup tune for a group of astronauts on a mission in space.

Stevens enthusiastically agreed and after the astronauts returned to Earth, the Air Force arranged for her to meet them all in person.

"She was elated in a wonderful way, of course," Arnone said. "I happened to be in California at the time and I went with my cousin. Those guys were great to her."

For Arnone, Stevens' death feels more like losing a sister than a cousin. He said he enjoyed a "special bond" with both his cousins, Carol and Antonino.

To those who knew her in the Falls and to her many fans across the country and around the world, Arnone said he hopes they'll remember April Stevens as a talented person who enjoyed life and never allowed her brushes with success to diminish her kindness.

"She was probably one of the most sincerest, honest and genuine people you'd ever want to meet," he said. "She was always smiling, never had a bad thing to say about anybody. She is just a sadly missed person who was loved by a lot of people."