Written by Frank Licari

When local Guelph native John Licari passed away in June 2022 at the age of 47, Guelph lost an important member of its community. John had served as the musical director of Sacred Heart Parish for over 33 years, and he had become a staple of the local music scene for just as long. Simultaneously, a brotherly bond, forged in years of creative collaboration and Italian tradition, was broken.

Photo Courtesy of Frank Licari

Born to Italian immigrants, John and older brother Frank were bitten by the performing gene at a very young age. John started a music career at the age of 4 years old along with his older brother Frank who had already been playing the accordion for 2 years. John made his debut as a child singing prodigy, appearing on Toronto’s CHIN Radio and Television. Under the moniker “Little Johnny,” he performed songs in Italian while occasionally backed up by his brother on the accordion. They toured Southern Ontario and ventured into Upstate New York as a novelty act with various rock bands.

At the age of 12, Frank gave up the accordion for the bass guitar while attending St. James Catholic School. He soon formed a rock band along with fellow students and the trio started playing the local music scene. Three years later, John would follow in his brother’s footsteps as the bassist and lead singer of his own rock trio.

Frank’s career soon veered off into the theater, and on his nineteenth birthday, he left Guelph to pursue an acting scholarship in NYC. John, only sixteen at the time, stayed behind with mom and dad and continued pursuing his music. 

In 1996, The Licari’s lost their father to diabetes and lung cancer. Despite this loss, John persevered to try to push the band to play even more and they eventually recorded their first full album. When things slowed down for them, he went on to join and form other bands in the Southern Ontario music scene becoming a regular at Canada Day celebrations and outdoor events for over 30 years.

Meanwhile, Frank went on to a successful theatrical, television and film career in the U.S. becoming a Blue Man with the Blue Man Group and landing roles in major network television. He worked opposite stars like Tom Cruise and Chris Rock in film, and hosted his own television shows on PBS. 

Through the years, John and Frank stayed very close; John would share his new music with his brother and Frank would share his latest television appearance or movie role. It was a bond steeped in shared creative passion and brotherly love. 

Photo Courtesy of Frank Licari

In February of 2019, John was suddenly diagnosed with Stage 4 Colorectal Cancer. Having already lost their father at a young age due to poor health, the boys and their mother were now faced with the reality that their youngest could go down the same path.

Without hesitation, Frank reorganized his life, leaving behind his wife and teenage son in New Jersey to return home and care for his younger brother. Their mother moved to Hamilton to join him. Frank assumed the role of a live-in nurse, tending to John’s medical requirements and attending appointments, which strengthened their brotherly bond even further. Unfortunately in June of 2022, after a three year battle, John passed. 

During his three-year battle, John found solace and love through a cancer patient message board, where he met Jamee from Cleveland. Despite grappling with his own illness, John reached out selflessly to offer advice and support to others facing similar struggles. Their connection grew quickly, and over the last eight months of John’s life, they forged a profound and loving relationship, sharing moments of hope and joy. In his final week, Frank arranged for Jamee to be by John’s side. Though John’s condition was deteriorating, he experienced a moment of clarity, expressing his profound love for her before peacefully passing away less than twelve hours later, witnessed by Frank and a few close friends. 

John led an incredibly full life filled with hundreds of friends and co-workers who reached out constantly to Frank and his mom offering words of encouragement and helping hands. It certainly made things easier but the loss left a gaping hole and Frank knew that he needed to do something more. 

It was during a conversation with John’s former bandmates and close friends, that they came up with the idea to do a concert in John’s honor and memory. They decided to unite, along with a few other supporting musicians, and bring to life the music that the band had created with John all those years ago. They would perform the music from John and the band’s first and only studio album; songs that most had never heard live before. 

So, in February 2023, Frank produced the concert and joined the band in recreating his brother’s music in his honor. They were able to raise over forty-five hundred dollars to benefit the SickKids Foundation which was dear to John’s heart. The charity concert was so well received, Frank decided to make it an annual event.  

On April 6, 2024, the 2nd Annual John Licari Charity Event in Support of SickKids Foundation will take place at the River Run Centre in Guelph. This year, Frank has added his former band mate Adrian Raso, along with other local musicians and friends whom John played with over the years. Jason DaMaren and John Cusinato are back with Dirty Yellow Cab and the jazz/funk trio, Forza, will also perform, along with singer/songwriter D’Eve Archer. 

The evening will include an eclectic mix of music, stories and laughter to honor the memory of a man who made a huge difference in so many people’s lives. Most of all, it’s a way for an older brother to show his love for his younger sibling and maintain a connection that has lasted almost fifty years. Their bond continues.

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