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Renowned Grammy-winning Pianist and Former Conductor of Philly Pops, Peter Nero, Passes Away at 89

by Joshua Brown
4 comments
Peter Nero's death

Peter Nero, an accomplished pianist and Grammy laureate known for his unique interpretations of pop songs using classical and jazz elements, and long-standing conductor of the Philly Pops, has passed away at the age of 89.

His demise occurred on Thursday at the Home Care Assisted Living Facility in Eustis, Florida, as confirmed by his daughter, Beverly Nero, as reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer. The services are set to be private.

Nero was celebrated for adding a spectrum of classical, swing, Broadway, blues, and jazz tones to pop renditions, ranging from Cole Porter and George Gershwin to the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Often characterizing his musical style as “undefinable,” he took no offense when referred to as “middle of the road.” On the contrary, he once stated to a newspaper, “Middle of the road and doing great business.”

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Moe Septee, a Philadelphia concert promoter, recruited Nero to start the Philly Pops orchestra in 1979, coinciding with the death of Arthur Fiedler, a figure instrumental in modernizing the pops orchestra in Boston. Nero was hopeful to compete with Fiedler’s popularity.

Nero’s aspiration was to “beat the pants off them.” While his orchestra didn’t surpass Boston’s in prominence, it boasted regular sold-out shows in Philadelphia, largely owing to Nero’s animated performance style and charismatic stage presence.

Nero frequently turned to Broadway tunes, Hollywood themes, and Gershwin’s compositions in his dual roles as a performer and conductor. He also explored Motown’s repertoire and ventured even further into bands like Procol Harum and an album dedicated to disco and 70’s love songs.

His tenure with the Philly Pops ended in 2013 when the orchestra announced it could no longer sustain his salary.

Before becoming known as Peter Nero, Bernie Nerow had a challenging early career in New York and Las Vegas. However, he found his rhythm in his late 20s, playing on the New York club scene.

Stan Greeson of RCA signed him, envisioning him as a potential star, and suggested the name change to Peter Nero. Frequent radio and TV appearances, club shows in the early 1960s, and two dozen RCA albums over a decade all stemmed from this alliance.

Nero was honored with Grammy Awards in 1961 for best new artist and in 1962 for best performance by an orchestra or instrumentalist for his album, “The Colorful Peter Nero.”

A 1963 album, “Hail the Conquering Nero,” reached No. 5 on the Billboard pop album chart, featuring renditions of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and “Mack the Knife.” Nero also charted with a rendition of “Theme from The Summer of ’42.”

Nero composed the score for the 1963 Jane Fonda film “Sunday in New York,” in which he also made a cameo.

Born in 1934 as Bernard Nierow, Nero grew up in Brooklyn. He began piano lessons at 7 and by 11, he could reportedly play Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major from memory. A scholarship allowed him to attend Juilliard, and he later graduated from Brooklyn College after winning several talent contests.

As a headliner, Nero preferred improvisation over a set list, choosing songs spontaneously. This approach of blending styles and genres was a hallmark of his work with the Philly Pops.

Describing his process to The New York Times in 1982, Nero said, “My programs for the Philly Pops may open with ‘Die Meistersinger,’ then ‘Chariots of Fire,’ then Enesco’s Rumanian Rhapsodies, then a television theme. I keep going back and forth, and the audience bought it from the beginning.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Peter Nero’s death

Who was Peter Nero?

Peter Nero was a Grammy-winning pianist and conductor who interpreted pop songs using classical and jazz styles. He served as the conductor of the Philly Pops orchestra for more than three decades.

Where and when did Peter Nero die?

Peter Nero passed away on Thursday at the Home Care Assisted Living Facility in Eustis, Florida. He was 89 years old.

What was Peter Nero’s musical style like?

Nero was known for infusing pop renditions with a variety of styles such as classical, swing, Broadway, blues, and jazz. He often described his sound as “undefinable.”

What were some of Peter Nero’s accomplishments?

Peter Nero was recognized with Grammy Awards in 1961 for best new artist and in 1962 for best performance by an orchestra or instrumentalist. He started the Philly Pops orchestra in 1979 and served as its conductor until 2013. His 1963 album, “Hail the Conquering Nero,” peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard pop album chart.

What was Peter Nero’s real name?

Peter Nero’s real name was Bernard Nierow, but early in his career, he was suggested to change his name to Peter Nero, under which he achieved fame and success.

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4 comments

ClassicPopsFan July 9, 2023 - 2:56 am

peter nero’s music will live on forever… such a powerful and unique style, he was one of a kind

Reply
PianoMan88 July 9, 2023 - 11:20 am

RIP Peter Nero! Grew up listening to your music, heaven’s gained a piano maestro.

Reply
TheJazzFanatic July 9, 2023 - 4:21 pm

its a great loss to the music industry…Nero was a real gem. his renditions were always a treat!

Reply
JamesMcK July 9, 2023 - 6:05 pm

can’t believe Nero’s gone, such a legend. He used to play those classics like no one else could…

Reply

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