Updated: May 12, 2013 6:14AM
There have been only two times in Rosella Dario’s 87 years when she gave up singing for a while.
One was in the 1960s. Dario was singing with a group of three or four men, traveling from one smoky nightclub to the next throughout Illinois.
Dario ended up being the star of that group and, as she tells it, the others were jealous of the attention she was getting. One night, they forced her to sing in the wrong key and at the wrong tempo. That, and singing in smoky rooms, did her in.
“From that night on, I couldn’t sing,” Dario said. “And when I went to the doctor, he said not to sing for a year.
“That shattered me.”
The incident may have seemed like the end of the world at the time, but another catastrophic event shook Dario to the core.
It also stopped her from singing for a time.
That other incident was when her childhood friend was murdered.
‘They murdered my friend’
Dorothy Dumyahn was killed in a fire at her Crest Hill home Nov. 18, 2012, allegedly set by her neighbor Bruce Gempel, who allegedly stabbed Dumyahn in her home on Caton Farm Road before setting it on fire. Police have said that Gempel allegedly committed the crime for money.
The news of Dumyahn’s death was horrific news to Dario, who was the elderly woman’s caregiver.
“I left her on a Saturday night and they found her the next day,” Dario said.
The 89-year old Dumyahn had dementia and couldn’t drive, so Dario took care of her every day.
Taking care of Dumyhan was a no-brainer for Dario. The two women were friends for about 60 years and met when Dario was 14 and Dumyahn was 16.
“They were closer than sisters,” said Dario’s daughter, Lynette Holloway. “Dorothy was in weaker health and got lost easily. My mom drove her to her doctor’s appointments and cooked for her once a week. She’d go there every day.
“There was a tremendous change when Dorothy was murdered. You go from doing everything (for someone) to nothing.”
Dario gets emotional remembering Dumyahn and the days that followed the murder. Dario, who has lived alone for the past 40 years since her husband died, couldn’t sleep and was afraid to be in the house alone.
So Dario had to leave.
She went 2,000 miles away to Port Townsend, Wash., to stay with her daughter for three months, to heal from the pain of losing Dumyahn and escape the fear of having to live alone.
“I told her to come out sooner than she did,” said the 60-year old Holloway, who has lived in Washington state for the past 20-plus years. “She was here from December to March.”
Holloway took care of her mother and helped her heal from her “darkness.”
Getting over the pain
While she was staying with Holloway, Dario performed in an amateur show titled “Fantabulous Follies” on March 8-9. The show benefitted the Port Townsend High School drama program and was presented in conjunction with the O’Meara Dance Studio.
“I didn’t expect to do the show and it was all an impromptu thing,” Dario said. “I auditioned and I sang, ‘You Make Me Feel So Young.’ ”
Dario got a spot in the show and stood out right from the get-go. It wasn’t because of her age and how well she could sing but because of what the other members of the cast did that Dario didn’t: They lip-synched all their songs.
“They were all afraid (to sing live),” Dario said. “I always did everything live and they couldn’t believe it. Some people even asked for my autograph.”
It was a nice moment for Dario, possibly even a deja vu moment for her. When she was in her 20s, Dario gave up the dream of becoming a professional singer because he mother was more of a traditionalist and wanted Dario to be home. Dario felt she had no choice but to honor her mother’s wishes.
“She didn’t want to hurt her mother,” Holloway said. “She had more than one opportunity to be a protege that would help her have a professional career. But she didn’t do it and had tremendous remorse over it. She had it all: the voice and looks.”
She got her start as early as age 3 and as she got older, Dario would sing at fairs and radio amateur hours. At one point, Dario went to Chicago and a music teacher and his wife wanted Dario to be their protegee, because she didn’t know how to read music.
And oddly enough, she still doesn’t. Dario never learned how, she just sings on instinct.
She sang with the Sammy Berk orchestra when she was only 7 years old, recorded five original songs at a Nashville, Tenn., recording studio and was crowned Ms. Senior Citizen at Joliet’s Rialto Theatre.
At one point, Dario went to Las Vegas where she worked with singer Vic Damone for a time. While she was in Vegas, Dario almost met the Chairman of the Board: Frank Sinatra.
“He’s tops to me, and there was no one quite like him,” Dario said. “He had it all.”
And Damone was one of those entertainers who was a perfectionist, Dario said, and had the utmost of class.
Dario said she could have stayed in Vegas to sing if she really wanted to but “wouldn’t sell my soul to do it.”
So Dario stayed in Joliet and raised her three children — Robert, who passed away at age 46 in 1995, Lynette and Randall, who resides in Florida. She sang in supper clubs and did shows all around the state.
Her talent also took her around the Chicago area and out to Atlantic City, N.J., and Omaha, Neb.
Dario is turning 88 in June and she is hoping to get more singing gigs in the Joliet area. She said her specialty is a “smile medley” where she sings four songs consecutively.
She sings gospel music but wouldn’t mind singing more popular tunes.
For now, Dario is trying to move on and put the pieces of her life back after the tragedy last November.
“I want to have my life back,” Dario said. “I had cared for Dorothy every day.”