April 17, 2008
Brother last of Cosmo Trio
Sammy Cosimo, 84, youngest of three brothers who gained popularity after World War II
Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
The last surviving brother of Cortland’s Cosmo Brothers Trio, Sammy Cosimo, poses with a publicity photo from the 1950s of he and his two brothers, Phil and Pat. The three grew up playing music together and performed across the East Coast in the 1950s. Sammy’s brother Phillip died Monday at the age of 87. Pat Cosimo died in April 2006. He was 84.
CORTLAND — Ask Sammy Cosimo about what it’s like to lose two brothers after 80 years of spending nearly every day with them and he’ll say it is tough, and then tell a story about their musical career.
Cosimo, 84, is the youngest of three brothers who played together in a group called the Cosmo Brothers Trio for 70 years.
On Monday, Phillip Cosimo died at the age of 87 at Cortland Regional Medical Center.
Sam Cosimo said his brother’s death was quick, and he stood there as his oldest brother took his last breath. The funeral service was this morning.
Patsy Cosimo, or Pat, died at the age of 84 in April 2006.
“It’s one of those things you go through in life. It’s sad,” Sam Cosimo said. “I try to be happy and joke. I try to keep away from (thinking about the) death of my parents, my brothers and friends in the military.”
All three brothers were born in Cortland between December 1920 and June 1923. Their father, an immigrant from Italy, pushed the boys into music.
“My father made sure we became musicians. During the summer he would make us practice six hours a day,” Sam Cosimo said. “During school we would practice from 7 to 9 each night … I didn’t like it. If I missed and my father wasn’t home I’d tell my mother, ‘Mom, don’t tell pop I didn’t practice;’ and she wouldn’t. My mother was great.”
Phil Cosimo played the accordion, Pat played the guitar and Sam first learned the accordion then switched to the bass. In their early teens, the boys formed the Cosmo Brothers Trio, dropping the silent “I” from their band name.
Their days of performing stopped abruptly when oldest brother Phil joined the Navy in August 1942, first stationed in the United States and then assigned to the destroyer USS Bearss as a pharmacist’s mate second class.
Six months after Phil enlisted, both Pat and Sam were drafted to fight in World War II. Pat was assigned to the Air Corps and ended up in the military band playing the French horn.
Sam ended up in the infantry, playing the company bugle in the South Pacific. In 1995, 50 years after being in the war, he was awarded a Bronze Star for assisting in the rescue of two wounded soldiers.
All three were discharged from the military in 1946 and rekindled their musical career, playing at hotels and nightclubs up and down the East Coast.
“We played for the people,” Sam Cosimo said. “We made our music simple, so they could sing along with it or dance along with it.”
Not long after coming home from the war, the three brothers bought a three-unit apartment house together at 212 Main St., and lived there with their wives and families ever since.
“We were all three different people, but I think the relationship was good,” Sam Cosimo said.
The brothers traveled, playing music until 1959 when they made the decision to stop going on the road and came home to Cortland.
“We played in every state on the East Coast, except Rhode Island,” Sam Cosimo said.
Both Phil and Sam got jobs at Smith Corona, and Pat taught music at McNeil’s Music on Main Street. The brothers didn’t play together again until 1998 and even then mostly played at family functions.
“We stopped three years ago,” Sam Cosimo said. “I think our last performance was at the pumpkin festival. After that, Phil could no longer play.”
Cosimo said it was his brother’s hands that were the problem. “He could no longer execute.”
In 2006, Pat Cosimo died in Florida, where he spent his winter months.
Sam Cosimo said he learned that his brother Pat had survived a heart attack and never told anyone. Years after the heart attack, Pat died.
Phil had been in the hospital for weeks before his death. Sam said he discovered he had bone cancer.
“It’s tough,” Sam Cosimo said of losing his two brothers. “But when you start facing reality, it happens.”
Now, Sam sits and plays the piano while his wife, Helen, or Candy, as she goes by, sings. They drink a glass of wine and enjoy themselves at their Main Street apartment.
“I have no regrets,” he said.
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