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Issue Date:  November 9, 2007

Song from '50s still paying off

Catholic News Service

Fr. Cayet Mangiaracina, who co-wrote “Hello, Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart,” simply shakes his head and chuckles as he collects thousands of dollars in royalty checks for a rock ’n’ roll classic that he cowrote in the 1950s.

“Hello, Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart” -- a song made famous by Ricky Nelson -- has furthered the religious mission of the Dominicans and it still keeps giving.

“The embarrassing thing about the song, which I wrote as ‘Merry, Merry Lou,’ is that it sounds like I got jilted,” said Mangiaracina, a New Orleans native who is parochial vicar of Holy Ghost Church in Hammond, La.

In 1953, Mangiaracina was 18, fresh out of Jesuit High School and considering a religious vocation when he auditioned as a piano player for the Sparks, a rock ’n’ roll group whose five members played for $1 an hour at youth dances.

He could only play chords, “but when we started to play some rock ’n’ roll, I kind of clicked with the group,” Mangiaracina recalled.

In 1954 he sat down at his family’s upright piano and banged out a tune that he titled “Merry, Merry Lou.” It became a local hit for the Sparks.

A few years later when he had left New Orleans to study for the Dominicans, the Sparks won a battle-of-the-bands contest in New Orleans and earned a recording session in New York City with Decca Records.

One of the two original songs the band selected for their 45 RPM phonograph record was “Merry, Merry Lou.” Bill Haley and the Comets and Sam Cooke liked the song so much they recorded their own versions. Then in the 1960s, Ricky Nelson released “Hello, Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart,” written by Gene Pitney.

Because the song was a dead ringer for “Merry, Merry Lou,” the Sparks’ publisher filed suit, and Mangiaracina was given coauthorship with Pitney. Royalties from the song went to the priest’s mother until her death in 1988, then they were forwarded to the Dominicans’ Southern province.

“Last year it was $35,000,” Mangiaracina said, smiling. “About three or four years ago, I got a check for $90,000.”

“I think it’s been my calling to be a people person and to serve others through liturgy and preaching and then doing other ministry such as preparing people for weddings or baptisms, visiting the sick in the hospital and at home,” he said.

He helped form a popular contemporary Catholic music group while he was at St. Dominic Parish from 1967 to 1980. He said good music is crucial for today’s worship experience.

“It helps us lift our hearts in praise to God,” he said. “That’s what liturgy is all about -- to come and worship God through Christ. Good music helps create the atmosphere to do that.”

National Catholic Reporter, November 9, 2007

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