A week ago, Mickey Montalbano, a World War II veteran, was part of Baton Rouge’s second annual Veterans Parade. He called it the “best one ever.”
Early Sunday morning the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame inductee died of heart congestion. He was 91.
Together with younger brother S.J., the two brothers played a huge role in the local music scene in the 1950s and 1960s, booking acts like Ray Charles, The Temptations, BB King and Jimi Hendrix at the old Independence Hall. It was Mickey who slipped money from the family business, Bano Produce, so S.J., aka Sam Montel, could make records under his Montel record label.
The two brothers were both inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
“Mickey was my financier,” S.J. Montalbano told The Advocate in a 2001 interview. “Daddy didn’t approve, so Mickey would do it behind Daddy’s back. He said, ‘Here’s some money. Go ahead and cut that record. Get you a hit.’”
And thanks to Mickey’s help, there were lots of hits. The brothers helped launch the careers of Jimmy Clanton, “Just a Dream”; Dale & Grace, “I’m Leaving it Up to You”; John Fred & the Playboys, “Judy in Disguise”; and the Boogie Kings.
They kept this music alive via their radio show for Baton Rouge Magnet High School’s radio stations, WBRH 90.3 FM and KBRH 1260 AM, hanging up the microphone three years ago.
“Mickey led a very, very full life,” said Rob Payer, manager of the two stations. “He wrote me a birthday card a few years ago in this beautiful handwriting, and the thoughts were so eloquent and touching. Not something you’d expect. He was a gentle, sweet guy and he’s going to be missed.”
That sentiment was echoed by Johnny Palazzotto. He was among a group of friends who visited with Mickey days before his death.
“We all sat around and told stories. … He was such a character,” said Palazzotto, who referred to his longtime friend as “Uncle Mickey.” “He is/was very much loved by everyone and I will miss him.”
Some of those stories are recounted in a just-released book by S.J., “I’m Leaving it Up to Me.” The brothers had a book-signing scheduled in four weeks. It is dedicated to Mickey.
Wake: Wednesday, Nov. 7, 5-8 p.m. @ Greenoaks Funeral Home
Visitation at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church: Thursday, Nov. 8, 9 a.m. until mass at 10 a.m.