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Connie Manitini
Constantine “Connie” Mantini with accordion at his grocery store on Brockway Avenue in Morgantown, 1990. Photograph by Norman Julian.

“I Like to Make People Happy”

Connie Mantini and His Accordion

By Norman Julian

When Morgantown’s Constantine “Connie” Mantini puts the squeeze on an accordion, people listen. From the front porch in a coal town as a child, to Army facilities in America and Europe, to a bustling family-run store on Morgantown’s east side, to nightspots across northern West Virginia, people have listened and still listen to this man and his style with an accordion.

I listened in to one hour of the several hours the 78-year-old Mantini entertained each of two days at a holiday open house in Morgantown last December. The accordion seemed an extension of himself — a happy person who enjoys imparting the joy the instrument seems designed to provide. When Connie finished his performance, he began to put his accordion away. He opened the accordion case, extracted a soft cloth, and wiped the instrument clean of any smudges or the slightest hint of dust before affectionately setting it down. “Time to put the baby away,” he said. He laid it gently to rest in its cradle-like container and closed the lid.

“When I grew up in a coal town, there was an accordion player on every block,” says Mantini, who was born July 3, 1926. “At that time, the accordion was very popular.” His dad Eugene played a small, button-box accordion. Listening to his father play and hearing next-door neighbor and accordion teacher Philip Marzullo, Connie became fascinated by the sound of the reeds.

The local miners were the ethnic people — Italian, Lithuanian, Slovakian, Slovenian. And the accordion, often as not, was their instrument of choice. “They all went for the accordion,” Connie says.

Indeed, the scene of a lone accordion player performing on a porch or at a picnic or at a wedding was a familiar one. Accordionists were among the most popular and appreciated people at events in many ethnic communities in the Mountain State. You may or may have invited the mayor or the priest or the local politician, but you always invited the accordion player. Occasionally, you heard a violin or a mandolin, but the melancholy or happy refrains of an accordion emanated wherever people gathered.

“I like to make people happy,” says Connie. “If they enjoy the music, it gives me a thrill. If they get bored, then I get bored.” Rarely does he get bored.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.