On Saturday a week ago, Elisa Fiorillo was the subject of a front-page story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reporter Dave Herrera’s phone interview two days earlier had actually interrupted a dinner Fiorillo and her husband, Michael Dease, were having at the Italian American Club. They had been the guests of a woman thanking Fiorillo for selling her house. (Fiorillo’s day job is as a real estate salesperson with Knapp Realty in Henderson, NV.)
Following dinner and the interview, Fiorillo was invited to sing with the lounge band as a guest artist. In the audience was entertainer Dennis Bono who asked Fiorillo to appear on his live radio show the next Thursday. Still later that night, Fiorillo and her husband went to Sunset Station so that Fiorillo could sing with the Lon Bronson band. Her chosen song: Purple Rain.
Why was Fiorillo so in demand? Because she is a never-disappointing singer and because she had spent two important periods of her life working with singer/composer/musician Prince, who passed away earlier that day, Thursday, April 21.
Enough people knew of Fiorillo’s attachment to Prince that as soon as Prince’s death was announced, Fiorillo began getting emails and phone calls expressing sympathy. Friends in PR and management offered to help should the media come calling.
“The strange thing is,” says Fiorillo, “the day before Prince died, I was talking with bandleader Bruce Harper about our June 3rd show at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center. I was saying then that for all I’ve done in my life, I’m still not that well known, and we really must work on local publicity.”
The day following Prince’s death, Fiorillo began her day with an appearance on MSNBC, requiring her to drive to a studio just west of the Strip and sit alone in a room with a TV camera and be interviewed for national TV. She did her own hair and makeup for the appearance which she refreshed at Noon when she appeared at Fox studios for another TV interview. Channel 13 visited her at home at 2 p.m. Some time later, John Katsilometes of the Las Vegas Sun called for his own in-depth interview.
Fiorillo is not a newcomer to attention. Her background includes multiple TV appearances (American Bandstand, Jay Leno, Arsenio Hall, etc), world tours and numerous interviews. Twenty-five years ago she was a hot new singer attracting Prince’s production attention and encouragement. In 2008, at a time in her life when she could use validation as a singer, Prince asked Fiorillo to join his New Power Generation (NPG) production as a back-up singer.
Did Fiorillo like all the attention Prince’s death has brought her. “Not really,” she says. “I miss my friend and I’ve cried a lot. But I told myself that I do have stories to tell about just what a wonderful man Prince was.”
Working with Prince meant, for Fiorillo, friendship, respect, trust, encouragement, learning, travel and … many last-minute calls. “As back-up singers, we never received tour books with lists of locations, dates, hotels, etc.,” Fiorillo explained.”Instead we would often receive last-minute phone calls and ticket confirmations, and we were off. For a concert in Curacao, I remember, I received just one day’s notice.”
The reason for the secrecy, Fiorillo explained, is that Prince didn’t want ticket scalpers to have time to buy and sell tickets. Fiorillo says in return for the chaotic schedule, Prince was very generous financially to everyone who worked with him. “We were all well paid when we worked.” said Fiorello, “but if a person had a temporary financial problem and wanted to see Prince, Prince would simply ask, ‘How much do you need?'”
Regarding encouragement, among Prince’s last conversations with Fiorillo was one having to do with songwriting (he purchased two of her songs) and the fact that he felt her place in entertainment was songwriting and singing in front of a big band. “Songwriting is hard and you have to be in L.A, but he was so right about the big band,” says Fiorillo. “I’m working with the Bruce Harper Big Band now, and I’m singing the American song book — Streisand, Ella, etc. — it’s the only kind of singing that feels true to me.”
Fiorillo and the Harper band got together at the recommendation of drummer Adam Shendal. Every Tuesday night, the 19 pieces of the band and Elisa Fiorillo get together for rehearsals. “We do this music because we all love it.”
Fiorillo appears Friday nights at Ichabods Lounge with pianist Howie Gold; otherwise, most days, real estate is her main job. (At Knapp, she is known as Elisa Dease, her married name. She’s also called “the singing realtor”.)
About that Thursday appearance with the Dennis Bono show? Fiorillo agreed to appear before being told by her 10-year-old daughter Olivia that Thursday April 28 was “Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day”. Fiorillo not only took her daughter to work, she performed with her daughter the only song the two of them know together. As Fiorillo pointed out, following Prince’s death, a rainbow appeared over Prince’s home and recording studio, Paisley Park.
The song performed, exactly one week after Prince’s death, to a standing ovation at the Dennis Bono show was “Over the Rainbow”.