Ridgewood music teacher celebrates 40 years
by Alexandra Torres
Jun 14, 2013 | 3192 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joe Fuoco hosted his 7th annual concert fundraiser on June 1, taking the stage at St. Matthias School in Ridgewood with three generations of students from his school.

The event is in memory of Fuoco's mother Margaret, who passed away in 2007, and raises money for the Honeysuckle Foundation For Children With Cancer, The Fuoco Family Music Scholarship and St. Mary’s Hospital.

"That gives us a good feeling like we have a purpose, instead of just being hired to play a gig,” said Fuoco's wife and playing partner, Jeanette. “We’re going out there and were doing something for less fortunate people, some in terrible conditions."

St. Matthias was where Fuoco gave his first performance, playing accordion in the school's Christmas play. This year is also the 40th anniversary of the Joe Fuoco Music Center in Ridgewood.

"We wanted to keep her name alive for what she did for the community with the kids, the church and the school and also the business, because without her, there wouldn't have been a music center," said Fuoco while preparing for the concert.

Fuoco's love of music was inherited from his mother, who loved singing, and his harmonica-playing father. After being trained on the accordion, Fuoco moved on to the guitar at age six.

In the 1960s, many sub-genres of rock-and-roll were emerging, and Fuoco already had a few years of six-string experience under his belt. At 11 years old, he started playing at dances for a few bucks and, roughly two years later, he began playing professionally at parties and weddings.

Starting at age 14, he began giving lessons at his home.

"I'd get up Saturday morning and there would be 50 people standing there and you couldn't get everyone into the basement," he said.

At 18, Fuoco took his parents' advice, and with their support rented a storefront at 71st Avenue and 60th Lane.

From 1973 to 1976, it was a successful one-stop shop where people could take various music lessons and purchase guitars and equipment. When the lease expired, he rented the apartment above his mother’s until 1978 when the music center relocated to Cooper Avenue and 62nd Street.

In 1980, Fuoco opened a second location on Cypress Hills Street and Myrtle Avenue. In 1982, he brought both operations under one roof after purchasing a building at 66-20 Myrtle Avenue, where the center still thrives.

Through the Fuoco Family Scholarship, students can receive free lessons for up to 20 weeks. To be eligible, students must have an average of at least 85, exhibit music aptitude and a willingness to learn, and write an essay on why they should be awarded the scholarship.

For the past three years, almost all of the applicants have been awarded the scholarship.

Members of the American Society of Composers and Publishers, the Fuocos regularly perform at street fairs and community events.

In addition to a myriad of instruments, the music center features letters of gratitude, a plaques marking his 1993 induction into Christ the King High School Hall of Fame, and framed articles, including when he was voted “Best Solo Musician” in the Queens Ledger’s 1995 “The Best of Queens Contest.”

Peter Popowytsch took private guitar lessons with Fuoco in the mid-1970s, and remembers a young, down-to-earth instructor who emphasized originality.

“He tells kids that it’s okay to use other songs as building blocks, but they should make it their own,” Popowytsch said.

Ron Negri took guitar lessons with Fuoco in the 1980s and travelled from Pennsylvania to attend the concert and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the music center.

“He really looks out for you and makes sure you don’t go down the wrong road while learning,” Negri said. “He is a very giving musician. They have done so much for the community, especially the kids.”

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