Baritone Don Darcy began singing as a child and worked as a freelance band vocalist in the New York area during the mid-1930s. He recorded with Lud Gluskin in 1934 and Louis “King” Garcia in 1936. He also worked for Charlie Barnet and sang on local radio before joining Joe Venuti’s orchestra in 1937, where he stayed for four years.
As Darcy told it, he earned the job with Venuti after approaching the bandstand one night and bragging that he could sang like Bing Crosby, to which Venuti, a known jokester, replied that he couldn’t possible sing like Crosby because he had hair and Crosby was balding. Taking it as a challenge, Darcy shaved his head the next day to resemble Crosby’s balding pate and showed up again that night. Venuti hired him. Whether the story is true or not is unknown, as apparently many stories circulated about pranks played between the two men, including one that told of Venuti trussing up Darcy and suspending him over a theater pit with a tarpon and pole, which Darcy said was untrue.
After leaving Venuti, Darcy sang with Dick Gasparre and Joe Marsala before ending up in Rudy Bundy’s band in 1942. In January 1943, he joined Sonny Dunham, leaving in 1944 for Boyd Raeburn. While with Raeburn, he was reported to have received over seven thousand letters from Detroit-area fans when his rendition of “Prisoner of Love” was aired on local radio. He left Raeburn in April 1945, replaced by David Allen. He then worked with Art Mooney’s band in 1945, leaving in early 1946 to join Johnny Bothwell’s new orchestra, where he stayed into 1947. He recorded solo on Century Records in 1950.
Darcy was credited under a variety of stage names during his big band career. His last name was sometimes written D’Arcy, and while with Mooney he was known as Johnny Darcy. In 1952, he signed with Capitol Records and made a fresh start, dropping his stage moniker in favor of his real name, John Arcesi.
Capitol put a great deal of energy into promoting Arcesi, cooking up two notorious publicity stunts. The first stunt revolved around the release of Arcesi’s recording “Wild Honey.” The singer sent jars of honey to disk jockeys as a gift to promote the song, and Arcesi’s press agent set up a photo op with a model dubbed Miss Wild Honey. Apparently, the full extent of the photo op was unknown to her—or perhaps Arcesi ad-libbed when he dumped a jar of honey over her head—and the model sued, eventually settling out-of-court for $750 in late 1955.
The second stunt involved hiring an aspiring starlet to attend Arcesi’s show at the Thunderbird in Las Vegas on November 9, 1952, just before the release of his song “Lost in Your Arms.” The woman pretended to go into a trance when he sang the number and had to be hospitalized. The national wire services picked up the story, and it made headlines across the country. Newspapers published a picture of the supposedly unknown woman, which prompted her grandmother to identify her. A “hypnotic therapist” examined her, curing her by having Arcesi sing the same song again in her hospital room, which “woke” her after 39 hours in the trance. This cure also made the national news. When Capitol sent out copies of the song to disk jockeys, the record sleeves reproduced clippings of the incident and gave warning that playing the song could cause some members of the listening audience to become hypnotized.
While the public might have fallen for such theatrics, show business and music industry insiders didn’t, and the stunt became a source of amusement in the trade press for the next few weeks, as Capitol expanded upon it. Columnist Earl Wilson attended Arcesi’s first New York performance just before Christmas at the French Casino. When no one fell into a trance, he asked a “spokesperson,” who told him that “a wholly unscheduled and spontaneous trance will occur at the second show.” Billboard reviewer Bill Smith attended the second show and reported that a woman in the front row gave Arcesi a very expensive ring after he’d finished singing his infamous trance number, apparently hypnotized in the same manner as was the starlet in Las Vegas. For added flair, the woman was “East Indian” and wore a turban.
In addition to such publicity stunts, Arcesi’s performances also featured numerous gimmicks, much to the dislike of reviewers. He wore odd clothing, made exaggerated movements and sang in an odd manner. Capitol’s efforts to promote him were all for naught. While Arcesi made the headlines and was briefly in the spotlight, he never followed up with any recordings that sparked the public’s interest.
In late 1953, Arcesi dropped the gimmicks and changed both management and booking agencies, but by then it was too late. His career as a pop singer was effectively over. He spent the latter part of his life writing songs and producing other recording artists, occasionally singing and recording under pseudonyms. In 1972, he released an offbeat psychedelic album under the name “Arcesia” which has since become a collector’s classic for those who enjoy odd music.
John Arcesi passed away in 1983, age 66.