The five DeFranco siblings – Benny, Nino, Marisa, Merlina and Tony – were born to Italian immigrant parents and raised in Port Colborne and Welland, Ontario, Canada.
Initially performing as the DeFranco Quintet, the group found success after a demo tape of their songs was heard by Sharon Lee, editor of the teen magazine Tiger Beat.
Lee arranged to fly the group to Los Angeles for an audition, where they were signed to Laufer Entertainment, who helped them secure a recording contract with 20th Century Records.
Their debut single, Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat (1973) – featuring the lead vocals of 13-year-old Tony DeFranco – reached #1 on WLS for five straight weeks, #2 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 on the Cashbox singles chart.
Their second single, Abra-Ca-Dabra, reached the Top 40, followed by their final hit, Save the Last Dance for Me, which reached #18 in May 1974.
The rise of disco music in the mid-70s, coupled with Tony’s voice changing because of puberty, saw the group struggling to generate much interest. They continued to tour and perform in Las Vegas until they called it a day in 1978.
A reunion concert in August 1999 was followed by the DeFranco Family’s final performance at BB King’s Nightclub in Los Angeles in April 2000.