Michigan Accordion Society

Honorary Member

Mr. George Cailotto
September 10, 1912 – December 2, 2006

Honored by MAS on October 4, 1998

George Cailotto was born September 10, 1912, in Staunton, Illinois, into a family that loved music As a young boy, he gathered with relatives at Sunday afternoon picnics listening to his cousins play Italian songs and he enjoyed the singing and dancing. His mother, Anna, ordered his first accordion from a Sears and Roebuck catalog for $19.50. It was a semitone accordion with two rows of buttons on the right hand and two rows on the left.

George taught himself melodies by ear until his family moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1928. There, at the age of 16, he began formal studies on the piano accordion under the guidance of Professor Manfre. Some favorite songs of the day were Sweet Sue, The Charleston, and St. Louis Blues. Other instructors, Tom Cuccicone and Joe Massimino followed. Eddie De Santis and George also studied with Galla-Rini, Sid Dawson provided instruction in theory, harmony and arranging. In 1963, George switched to the free bass accordion.

George began playing jobs around the city when he was 17 years old. When a friend, Johnny DiCicco, decided to go "on the road," George took his place at Wurlitzer. Lessons were $1.25 or ten free lessons with the purchase of an accordion. Pete Baltruz also joined the Wurlitzer teaching staff at this time. George had a schedule of 110 students and directed a 100-piece accordion band. During this time he met his wife, Julia, who also played in the band. They were married in 1937, but that was one wedding George did not play! The following years were busy ones. They had three daughters, Joyce Korte, Janice (Leonard) Fedon and Carolyn (Thomas) Borgula. George opened State Music in 1939, with partner and guitarist, Al Komiak. Later he opened and taught at his own studios, Cailotto Music Studios. At one time he operated three studios (on the east side at Mack and Chalmers in Detroit, west side on Fenkel, and another in Redford) offering lessons on all instruments. His last studio before retirement was on Harper Avenue in Harper Woods.

In the late 1960's/earfy 70's, George was asked to be a part of the music faculty of Wayne State University as an instructor on the free bass for students who were pursuing their degree on the accordion. George was a progressive teacher in the accordion field for many years. He had an ardent interest in promoting the free bass accordion.

To quote George, "My aim is to keep producing better musicians, to keep the accordion industry, free bass and stradella in harmony and to create new interest and goals for our young talent after they have reached a quality level."

Through the "Golden" years of the accordion, he was very active in the Accordion Teachers Guild (ATG) and Michigan Accordion Association, as a board member and holding various offices. He was President of the ATG in 1972. During these years, George entered many students and bands into competition, he judged competitions and composed many test pieces. He accumulated quite a collection of trophies and ribbons. Competition was very keen between the studios and provided an opportunity for budding virtuosos to meet, compete and become friends. George also enjoyed the friendship and camaraderie of fellow members, teachers and judges. Some of the many significant accomplishments of those years included:

  • Six State of Michigan champions
  • United States Champion of ATG, Gene Corneillie. He then competed in Salzburg, Austria and placed 4th
  • Judged the 1970 Worlds Championship in Salzburg, Austria
  • Judged the 1972 World Championship in Caracas, Venezuela
  • Was proud to be on the panel of U.S. competition judges for a contestant named, Peter Soave, where Peter went on to win the World Championship.

George played his last professional job at the age of 84. He enjoyed playing at senior functions and getting together for musical afternoons with Fr. Daniel Complo and Vito Palazzolo. In retirement, George enjoyed walking, gardening, and being with his eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. George Cailotto's music and teaching career spanned 70 years. Hundreds, if not thousands of students passed through the doors of his studios. Some of these students have become professional musicians, others are doctors, homemakers, dentists, mechanics and lawyers; even a nuclear physicist, but all have left with a deeper appreciation of music and George as a teacher and a friend.

George was called from this life on December 2, 2006. His love of music and the accordion lives on in son-in-law Leonard Fedon, Grandsons Tom and Matt Borgula, great grandson Joshua Eckert and the many students who passed through the doors of his music studio.