Regardless of what it says on his birth certificate, Nyack’s resident funky-jazzy-soul singer is known to generations of local fans and friends simply as “Frankie D.”
The fashionable front man of Frankie D and The Boys whips up crowds with his joyful singing and dancing. He notably leads a weekly jam session at Olive’s that’s impacted generations of musicians.
But when it came time for Frankie Diaz, 67, to apply for a Nyack Senior Housing apartment — where he is now happily residing — his artistic credentials weren’t enough.
“Oh, you swore I was running for presidency!” Frankie D said. “What happened is, being [born] out of wedlock just causes problems back in the ’50s and the ’60s. And they lost a lot of the records. They had the wrong name on my birth certificate.”
In times of need, it’s good to have support, and when word got around that Frankie D needed help proving his authenticity as the genuine item, his musician friends were quick to assist.
“It’s my army. It’s my foothold in my life, to gather as many musicians around me as I possibly can, because there’s a certain intelligence,” Frankie D said.
The effort worked and he secured the apartment.
“I have lived all over Nyack, with people, it was wonderful — but God bless the child that’s got his own!” he said. “I’m in heaven. I enjoy it.”
Frankie D’s artistry — including being a tailor, furniture upholsterer, and costume/set designer — has always given him a sense of place and purpose that transcends societal benchmarks.
“I’ve always had the magic wand, not in a narcissistic way, but it was, ‘Come on in; he’s got something we need; his presence is going to do something.’ So, by me not getting my paperwork ’till 67 didn’t mean shit — because I was Frankie D!”
Eric Parker, the singer’s longtime guitarist, worked with local lawyer Alan McGeorge, who plays sax at the jams, to provide pro bono assistance establishing Frankie’s legal identity and residency.
“I’ve had paperwork, but this is the first time I’ve had a New York State ID — legally locked it down. ‘Cause I’ve been here forever and a day!” he said.
Forever began as a kid spending summers with his Aunt Nellie, a local hat maker and beauty shop owner who owned a 15-room queen Victorian home overlooking Nyack’s Memorial Park. It was there where Frankie D later lived and achieved his lifelong goal of bringing his mother, also named Nellie, home to be at peace in her later years.
“I’ve been home-home [in Nyack] since I was, like, 17, 18,” Frankie D said.
He splashed onto the local arts scene, winning grants for costume and set design at Rockland Center for the Arts in 1979, he said. “[Nyack] was like a menagerie of walking through a European art fest,” he said. “These were the founders of this area, and to be able to have them as friends, it’s wonderful.”
Before he ever sang, he danced as a small child at his mother’s bar in West Hampton, NY. “When I danced, everybody would circle and say ‘look at that little boy go!’” he said.
Frankie D’s distinctive fashion sense was inspired by his uncles and mentors, Hildred and Frankie “Fat Man” Humphries, jazz musicians affiliated with Count Bassie during the swing era.
After his formative years in Newark, N.J., he contemplated enlisting in the military, but fate intervened. “I was going to go to the military, but I came up to Nyack, and a lady ordered some furniture for $1,000,” he said. “So I go, ‘well, I won’t have to enlist into the military!’”
Cutting fabric for furniture also helped him develop as a tailor. “I knew how to cut patterns. I used those patterns on upholstery patterns and it evolved my entire technique,” Frankie D. said. “I took that same technique and applied it to fabric and fashion and — pop — it worked like a charm.”
Through it all has been his music. Parker, his guitar player, still marvels at Frankie’s abilities. “I say he’s like the living, breathing spirit of good Nyack vibes,” he said.
To Frankie D, music is an approach to life that has a harmony within itself. “[Music] was always the brightest light at the darkest times,” he said. “It’s been one of my main sources of survival, it’s really that important.”
Tom Clancey is an independent musician and community journalist. Find him at >ClanceyMusic.com. Photos by Tom Clancey.