Rich Tarsitano

Rich Tarsitano was the first bugle instructor and music director for the nationally known Chicago Royal Airs. A long time resident of Chicago’s West Side and Elmhurst, IL, Rich was a graduate of Austin High School, Wright Junior College and the University of Nebraska. Rich married his childhood sweetheart, Rosemary Daly, in 1956.

Although he had lifelong interests in music, “Tars” also excelled in sports. He was an accomplished wrestler and weightlifter while growing up at Chicago’s Austin High School.

Having learned to play the bugle with the Austin Grenadiers back in the 50’s, he became more attached to a musical career. The Grenadiers attained the stature of state champions in the mid-50’s and finished 4th at  the 1953 American Legion Nationals held in St. Louis. Tars marched with the famous American Legion National Champion Skokie Indians in the late 1950’s. His superior playing ability can be heard on recordings of the day; he performed many of the solos. Tarsitano believed that “any kid could play the bugle” if given the proper instruction, guidance, and encouragement.

Along with Sie Lurye, Rich saw a need for city youth to make something of themselves. The West Side neighborhood was a rough, tough place for teenagers to find something to excel in. Seeing the neighborhood filled with wandering kids, they formed the basis of what became the Chicago Royal Airs. Although never officially sponsored by, the corps would be closely associated with the Our Lady of the Angels Parish. Associate Pastor, Father Joe Ognibene was very close friends of Rich and Sie. Father Joe helped develop the corps’ motto of Faith, Honor and Humility.

With very meager beginnings, the Royal Airs were able to obtain instruments – bugles, drums, and flags. The corps was able to receive sponsorship from the Cicero American Legion Post 96 and then from the Blue Island VFW Post 1242.

Local competitions included meeting many nationally known drum and bugle corps. During the next 10 years, the Royal Airs won many of those competitions. Included are both state and national awards. In August of 1962 under Tars’ leadership, the Royal Airs won the Illinois American Legion title. That show included 24 other corps and featured the winner of previous championship, the Chicago Cavaliers.

Rich taught many thousands of young men and women, making each person a better individual because of the experience. His talents lead him to be sought out by other drum and bugle corps in Illinois. He received numerous accolades for his special way of teaching. Rich arranged and instructed the Skokie Vanguards, Morton Grove Cougars, Ottawa Crusaders, St. Michael’s Chi-Angels, Chicago Spartans, and the Chicago Police Dept. Drum and Bugle Corps.

In 2002, the Royal Airs reunited to pay tribute to Sie Lurye who was being inducted into the DCI’s Hall of Fame. Those “kids”, now men and women in their 50s and 60s, reunited in July, at the Cavaliers’ show in Des Plaines and played a musical tribute to Tarsitano. They played a medley of Tars’ arrangements: Rhapsody in Blue, Over There, Where or When, No Other Love (Chopin’s Etude), Venus, and Quo Vadis.

Rich owned several businesses over the years, including a service station and a limousine service. But music and instructing were always his passion.

Many of his students saw him as more than an instructor, rather as a close friend and mentor. Amatore Menle, a long time friend and student said, “Rich’s musical influence, prodding and pushing, matured the early years of the Royal Airs which, ultimately, launched them into national champions”.

Rich died on October 10, 2002 of complications from diabetes. He was preceded in death by his wife, Rosemary. He is survived by his five children and 11 grandchildren.