As long as Mike Gallo Sr. was alive, Al Jolson was never really gone.
But Gallo, of Brigantine, died last month at 81, years after he retired from a career singing in nightclubs from the Red Garter in North Wildwood to Atlantic City’s 500 Club to Palumbo’s in Philadelphia to the Copacabana in New York.
Gallo worked in lots of different acts, but he was a natural for singing like Jolson, who was called “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” when Gallo was growing up in Paterson, Passaic County.
Jolson “was his signature thing,” said Mike Gallo Jr., of Linwood, who emphasizes that his dad wasn’t imitating the star when he sang. “He just had that voice — it was his natural singing voice.”
Another son, Don Gallo, of Brigantine, said the voice was so close to Jolson’s, it could limit his dad’s entertainment options.
“He couldn’t do his own thing,” Don said, “because he sounded like somebody else.”
But Mike Sr.’s voice kept him working steadily for decades. He wasn’t a wedding-band guy, singing on weekends for extra cash. He was a professional, raising his family with no day job.
He did try a straight job for a while, as a liquor salesman. But in the 1950s, Mike had to choose between selling booze and singing tunes — his family said that by New Jersey law, he couldn’t do both.
He picked the stage over the bar. And even his wife, Leah — who had to feed their four boys — didn’t regret her husband’s choice.
“I didn’t worry,” she said. “It was just to make ends meet at the time, but ... he made a good living at it.”
She liked that the star people saw on stage was the same guy she knew at home.
“He was always easy to get along with,” Leah said. “I guess he was doing what he liked. That probably helped.”
Although he worked from New York to Las Vegas to Florida, his regular summer gig for 20 years was the Red Garter. The work was so steady, Mike and Leah moved to North Wildwood full time in the 1970s and stayed until they left for Brigantine a few years ago, to be closer to their family.
Aldo Palombo Sr., North Wildwood’s former mayor and a longtime pharmacist there, got to be friends with the singer. And in 2005, Mike sang at a 50th anniversary party for Palombo and his wife, Sylvia.
So last year, the Palombos, now of Upper Township, were happy when the Gallos showed up at another Palombo party, and the musicians talked Mike onto the stage.
“Mike hadn’t sung for about a year, because he had cancer of the throat. But they asked him to sing ... and it was wonderful,” Aldo Palombo said.
“His voice was so strong, we couldn’t believe it,” Leah added.
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