Beginning in the late 1930s, Gino Silvi worked in various Hamilton and Toronto dance bands, and then took his saxophone and clarinet on the road for a few years with several orchestras. From there he sang with the Bill Brady Sextet on Toronto radio station CKEY, and then formed his own vocal ensemble, which recorded many advertisements. He soon became one of Toronto’s most respected and sought-after music arrangers, working in countless other live productions and projects for the CBC, both in radio and in TV. He was the musical director behind the “Wayne & Shuster Comedy Hour” and then “Cross Canada Hit Parade.”
So when The Canadian Talent Library (CTL – a Liberal government sponsored program to give promising citizens the opportunity to record) came calling, looking to put a female vocal group on vinyl, they naturally thought of Silvi. He saw no reason to go through a rigorous auditions process, and simply invited the quartet from Hit Parade, which was dubbed The Silvi Girls for the program.
Fronting the group was Angie Antonelli, whose career with Silvi dated back to 1957. Also a Wayne & Shuster alumni, she was a soprao trained at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. Her career took off when she won a local talent contest in 1951 called Opportunity Knocks. From there she sang leads with the Canadian Opera Company, and had performed with such legends of the time as Carl Tapscott, Ivan Romanoff, and Denny Vaughan.
A native of Hamilton, Fran Groat moved to Toronto on a scholarship. Like Antonelli, she was a graduate of the Toronto Conservatory, and received her Academic Residency for Canadian Music at only 16 years old. Prior to auditioning for Silvi for “Hit Parade” in 1960, Groat had perfromed with the Toronto Symphony, and for two years was the featured soloist at Boston’s Harvard Congregational Church. After Silvi added her to his cast, she also moonlighted on “GM Motorama,” a cross-Canada arts tour the company devised, and performed at the CNE Grandstand in Toronto.
Carol Hill began singing lessons at the age of 10. The contralto from Toronto had performed with the Leslie Bell Singers and his girls’ quartet for six years, and toured the US and Canada, appearing on “GE Showtime” television program along the way. She joined The Silvi Girls in 1957.
The quartet was rounded out by Winnipeg’s Joyce Brtan, and the only one of the four women who hadn’t appeared in one of Silvi’s earlier projects – CBC TV’s production of “Juliette” (which featured another Silvi group that recorded for the CTL – The Romeos). Brtan received her formal training at Conrad Conservatory. The soprano sang leads in various operas and concerts until moving to Toronto in ’57. The most pop influenced member of the group, Brtan also had experience doing club dates with an all-woman group called The Sapphires.
With Ralph Fraser behind the Hammond organ, Silvi took the girls to the the CBC studios in Toronto and recorded an album for CTL in 1961, based on his arrangements of harmonious early pop standards by other Canadian artists, including “Throw Another Log on the Fire,” Carrie Jacobs’ “A Perfect Day,” Isham Jones’ waltz classic “My Best To You,” and the inspirationally motivated “In The Chapel in the Moonlight,” “May The Good Lord Bless & Keep You,” and “The Voice in the Old Village Choir.”
CTL albums weren’t made to be commercially purchased, rather to be sold to Canadian radio stations on a subscription service. Many stations across the country found room for their own picks off the album. The Silvi Girls continued to make the odd appearance live, as they’d done prior to the recording of the album, as well as continue with “Hit Parade” until it was taken off the air in the mid ’60s.
Silvi taught music throughout Toronto’s schools until retiring in 1987. He died in 1993 at the age of 79.
CANADIAN TALENT LIBRARY (1962)
It’s Just a Little Street Where Old Friends Meet
Throw Another Log On The Fire
When Mother Played The Organ
In The Chapel In The Moonlight
May The Good Lord Bless and Keep You
My Best To You
It’s No Secret
When The Organ Played At Twilight
Down The River of Golden Dreams
The Voice in the Old Village Choir
A Perfect Day