Vincent DeRosa, French horn player who ranged from classical to films and jazz – obituary

DeRosa was said to be the most recorded French horn player in history
DeRosa was said to be the most recorded French horn player in history

Vincent DeRosa, who has died aged 101, was a French horn player known for the beauty, accuracy and consistency of his tone on the instrument.

He worked with American orchestras and opera houses, is heard on the soundtrack of countless Hollywood films from Spartacus and Star Wars to Dr Zhivago and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and appears on disc with Henry Mancini, Barry Manilow and Frank Zappa.

DeRosa was said to be the most recorded French horn player in history and was also one of the first to develop a career in jazz, working with Ella Fitzgerald, Art Pepper, Stan Kenton and Sammy Davis Jr.

He was a favourite of Frank Sinatra, with whom he worked since the crooner’s radio days on Your Hit Parade in the 1940s. The critic Alex Ross wrote that the sweetest moment in Gay Talese’s celebrated 1966 Esquire profile, “Frank Sinatra has a Cold”, is the singer’s greeting: “Vicenzo, how’s your little girl?”

Making a film soundtrack in the postwar years was a laid-back affair and DeRosa spoke of playing for three or four sessions a day. “But that was what we did in those days,” he said, adding: “Almost every night, after doing movie recordings, we were recording with different artists.”

On one occasion he got a call asking him to fit in a session in his lunch hour. “So I walked over at noon. On a stand was music with just two notes. They wanted me to play them strongly, so I did, then asked what else they wanted. That was it. And the recording with those two notes became a great hit.”

Vincent Ned DeRosa was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 5 1920, the eldest of five children of John DeRosa, a clarinettist, and his wife Clelia (née DeRubertis), Italian immigrants.

The family moved to Chicago, where, aged ten, Vincent began learning the French horn with Peter Di Lecce, principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

A couple of years later they moved again, this time to Los Angeles. One of DeRosa’s teachers was Alfred Brain, uncle of the British horn player Dennis Brain. He had emigrated to the US in 1923 and was principal horn at 20th Century Fox studios, where DeRosa started his professional career aged 17. Two years earlier he had substituted for another horn player in La traviata with San Carlo Opera.

During the Second World War DeRosa played with a US Army recording orchestra in Santa Ana, California, and afterwards became established as “first call” horn player for Hollywood. “I learnt the Mozart and Strauss [concertos],” he said. “But the studio business required something different. The music was always new, never seen before; you played it and they recorded it. You never knew what you were going to get.”

In 1974 he joined the University of Southern California and over the next 31 years taught many of the next generations of horn players. His life and career are documented in Carved in Stone (an anagram of Vincent DeRosa), published in 2010 by Todd Miller, a fellow horn player.

DeRosa resisted entreaties to become an orchestral player, not least because of the time lost to rehearsals and because he could earn five times as much as a freelance. One of those requests was from Chicago, where he had lived as a child. “I’d go to school in three feet of snow. It was fun. I loved it,” he said. “But I wouldn’t love it now.”

Vincent DeRosa met Sally Jordan, a radio actress, on a blind date in 1944 and they were married the following year. She died in 2014 and he is survived by a son, a daughter and a pet parrot known as Cheech.

Vincent DeRosa, born October 5 1920, died July 18 2022