Toms River Regional Schools Hall of Fame

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Gia Maione Prima

Many young performers have played the leads in their high school musicals and envisioned themselves on the great stages of the world. Few in the real world actually achieve national and international standing in any professionl. Gia (aka JoAnn) Maione Prima went from the lead in the Toms River High School's "South Pacific" in 1958 to the renown of "The Ed Sullivan Show", "The Johnny Carson Show", and many others. She appeared with famous jazz and musical artist Louis Prima as female vocalist and accompanist, eventually marrying Louis. They had two children: Lena and Louis Prima Jr. Gia notes after seeing Prima perform, "From that moment on, Louis became my musical life."

Gia explains that while her classmates and Toms River High School were listening to Elvis, she was playing Louis Prima records. She said her father, who was one of he many Italian-Americans who loved Prima's music, played the records at home and she "knew them all by heart". Her father, Tommy Pasquale Maione, was proprietor of Maione's at the foot of the Rt. 37 Bridge, the Red Top Night Club on Ocean Avenue, and a bakery.

Gia undertook seventeen years of piano lessons and trained under Alma Steedman, Choir Director at Westminster Choir College at Princeton University. Although she worked locally with the intention to save to attend Julliard School of Music in New York City, she auditioned for Louis Prima in 1962. From then on, Gia was a famous performer opening at clubs like Basin Street East, the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, and "hanging" with Frank Sinatra at the Rat Pack.

Of Toms River, Gia remembers fondly teachers and administrators: Dorothea Lillie, Joseph Clouser, Robert Weigold, Robert Kashner, Mr. Harry Reitz, Mr. D. Calabrese, Mrs. E. Lewis, and Mr. Nathaniel Detweiler. She also recalls Ben Carroll's Sweet Shop, "Mike the Cop", and the original "Happy Days" of Toms River during the 1950s.

Gia's resume includes performances on "The Dean Martin Show", "The Mike Douglas Show", Bob Hope specials, "The Art Linkletter Show", "The Merv Griffin Show", a Steve Lawrence special, and the production of seven CD's. Some of Prima's popular songs include "Josephina", "The Best Is Yet to Come", "Sing, Sing, Sing", "Jump, Jive, an' Wail", and "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody". She helped create a documentary about her life that has played on the American Movie Classics cable channel. She has been a peer among peers, performing before audiencees that included Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Jackie Gleason, and Robert Mitchum. Awards include Las Vegas Mother of the Year. She detoured in 1981 into Anthony Armstrong's architectural office in Las Vegas. Professionally, Gia has volunteered for many benefit charities and telethons and sponsored many golf tournaments to benefit charities.

Recent interest in Louis Prima's musical legacy is reflected on the soundtrack of "Anger Management" with Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler, and on a commercial GMC's Yukon sports utility vehicle. Gia's rendition of "My Funny Valentine" was considered in Robert Altman's "The Company".

The Toms River Regional Schools Hall of Fame welcomes Gia Maione Prima. We salute her colorful and influential career in popular music.

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