Anthony P. “Duke Belaire” DeCubellis, longtime Rhode Island resident and Jazz legend passed away peacefully at the age of 88 on October 15, 2020 surrounded by family in his home in Derry, NH. Duke was the loving husband to his late wife, Janice M. DeCubellis (Foster) and the adored father of Michael, Diana, Karen and Susan.
The son of the late Pasquale DeCubellis (Ray Belaire) and Olga DeCubellis (Onorato), Duke was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1932. He graduated Central High School in Providence and attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Duke began his career as a professional drummer at the early age of 16. Influenced by his father, Ray, a Band Leader and operator of the Arcadia Ballroom in Providence, exposed Duke to the music scene and sounds. Starting his musical career during the Big Band era, he remained loyal to that genre of music throughout his long career becoming famous for keeping the Big Band sound alive in New England. He began touring with the Johnny Long Orchestra at the age of nineteen with whom he toured for one year and later with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. He was a member of the 1st Armored Division Army Band for two years and then went on to tour with the Tex Beneke Band in 1955-1956. Duke continued drumming with the house band at The Celebrity Club, the first integrated club in Providence, working with such artists as Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, June Christy, Tony Scott and Slimm Gaillard.
In 1967 Duke formed his own big band modeled after the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra of the Village Vanguard in NYC. Motivated by what he heard; Duke was inspired to bring that sound to Rhode Island. Tapping veteran musicians and the finest young talent, The Duke Belaire Jazz Orchestra was born. The Band played every Monday night at Bovi’s Tavern in East Providence for more than 30 years straight earning notoriety for being one of the longest standing Swing Bands. Duke is credited for shepherding many young musicians through their musical careers and exposing younger musicians to the great sounds of Big Band Jazz. Many band members went on to successful careers touring all over the world, drawing on the experience and honed musicianship enabled by playing in the Duke Belaire Jazz Orchestra. Duke believed his role as the drummer was to keep the swing going, “drive hard” and allow the musicians to showcase their talent. Many jazzmen, like Zoot Sims and Clark Terry, passing through town would stop in to Bovi’s Tavern to listen but often could not resist the temptation to sit-in and play. Clark Terry was so impressed with the band he gifted Duke big band arrangements as did others like Woody Herman. In 1980 Duke recorded an album, “Live at Bovi’s” (Argonne records) which earned five stars in the popular Downbeat Magazine. Duke was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2015.
Duke had a fierce passion for music, second only to his love and devotion to his wife Janice to whom he was married for 60 years. Duke and Janice married in 1957 and together they lovingly raised their four children in Cranston, Rhode Island. In the early1970’s recognizing the toll being a musician could have on family, Duke and Janice started a business, which would allow him to be home. Duke owned and operated Garden City Liquors located in Garden City Shopping Center in Cranston for 15 years. After retiring this business, he went on to work at Frenze Liquor where he earned recognition for his top salesmanship. Throughout his life, Duke never let his passion for music wane. He was able to return playing music full time when his children were grown developing a lucrative general booking business. He headlined at local events such as the Newport Jazz Festival, the Palladium Ballroom, Brown University and playing at various venues throughout the New England area and of course, his standing Monday night gig at Bovi’s Tavern. Duke retired from playing at the age of 70.
Duke was the devoted father to Michael DeCubellis of Eustis, FL., Diana LaGasse and her husband Robert of Derry, NH, Karen McGowan and her husband Lawrence of Woodbury, CT, and Susan DeCubellis of Casselberry FL, the loving grandfather of Nicole Fretwell and her husband Mathew, Michael LaGasse, Alejandra LaGasse and Brady McGowan; loving great-grandfather to Lily, Everett, Bennett and August Fretwell. He was the dear brother to the late Carole Weber of Warwick, RI; Raymond DeCubellis of Cranston, RI; and Mary Kashmanian (DeCubellis) of Cranston, RI.
Duke’s Visiting will be held on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. in the Nardolillo Funeral Home & Crematory, Cranston, 1278 Park Avenue, Cranston, followed by a funeral home service at 8:00 p.m. His burial will be private. Visit NardolilloFH.com for online condolences.