Growing up in Chicago, Leonardo’s earliest musical memories are of belting pop hits into an imitation microphone in synch with Tom Jones. A few years down the road found him playing his flute in the middle school band. That was all before the most decisive day in his life, the day he was inspired to take up guitar after seeing legendary folk singer and five-string banjo virtuoso, Pete Seeger … by accident! (Leonardo, age eleven, thought the artist scheduled to perform in his school gym that day was ‘80s rocker Bob Seger.)
Leonardo explains, “I knew I was a songwriter by the age of 16. I wasn’t that good at learning other people’s songs, but original words and melodies flowed out of me quite easily.” He also discovered an extremely practical use for his musical abilities. As the big brother of three siblings, the youngest of whom has Down Syndrome, his guitar was the best tool a babysitting brother could possess.
“Writing for children is a recent reinterpretation of my artistic life. After 12 years of writing and touring in the folk/acoustic genre I was ready for new challenges. I began with some fun, positive songs that had educational elements. People whom I respected advised me to take this idea further. I did, and I haven’t looked back since. My debut kids’ CD was called ‘Makin’ Lemonade.’ The title comes from the old saying that if you feel life is giving you lemons – make lemonade. While I was recording ‘Makin’ Lemonade,’ my brother Mario was with me. Because he has both autism and Down Syndrome, he is not typically very vocally expressive. However, when I invited him to make chicken clucking and bee buzzing sounds on that recording session, he took great joy in making a contribution. And he did a fabulous job!”
It’s really Mario’s shining light that guides Leonardo’s musical journey. Inspired by his brother, Leonardo began doing live shows, both solo and with his band, for children of all abilities. A significant part of his musical mission has become working with children who have special needs, performing at conferences, schools, camps and family night gatherings. Annual highlights are “Buddy Walks”. At these awareness gatherings, sponsored by the National Down Syndrome Society, Leonardo incorporates children who have Down Syndrome into his shows. He explains, “I want to create awareness of the gifts, talents, and possibilities that people with developmental disabilities possess.
While performing at a South Bend (Indiana) Buddy Walk, held on the campus of Notre Dame University, Leonardo was heartened by a particularly enthusiastic group of teens who came up on stage to sing and dance with his band. This experience served as inspiration for inviting the teens (members of the Michiana Down Syndrome Group) to be the backup chorus for Leonardo on his 2008 CD, ‘Makin’ Waves.’
Notes Leonardo, “This album is about feeling good and empowered, and taking that out into the world. We can ‘make waves’ by speaking out against something wrong, creating change, and being an example to others. I see special needs and disability issues as the next step in the progress of human rights. Songs like “Makin’ Waves,” “Showtime,” “One Person,” “Ready for Success,” and “Buried Treasure” touch on these bigger issues. With this CD, I also wanted to offer a bit of solace to the parents and caregivers who are an integral part of kids’ lives. Special needs or not, it’s a tough job to be a parent. I try to create a celebration of possibilities.”
If you want a musical act full of positive energy, fun and optimism, Leonardo and his band are the perfect fit. Leonardo played at our school’s recent Harvest Hoopla, a fall festival that draws around 800 parents and children. They made a great event “fantastic” because their music created an upbeat and relaxed atmosphere. All through the evening, kids played air guitar, hoola-hooped and danced along with Leonardo. He even wrote a “Hoopla” song for us. Our PTO team also appreciated Leonardo’s professionalism. When he said he would do something, he did it – right away. The band arrived early to set-up, brought their own quality sound system and entertained from open to close, without a break. We couldn’t be happier with the job Leonardo and his band did at Harvest Hoopla. The kids, teachers and parents are still singing his songs.
Kristi Lafrenz Stewart Elementary PTO
My kids (three and five) are HUGE fans-they listen to BOTH your CDs EVERYDAY! They know all the words to almost every song. My favorite is "Do it myself" because it taught my daughter to say "Thanks for your help now let me do it myself" instead of "NO! I WANNA DO IT!" haha! Some really great meaningful, fun and inspirational songs-Thanks again!
Our community was thoroughly entertained by your concert. Your music kept the children dancing and was delightfully charming to the parents as well. Oswego can't wait to play with you again!
Special Events Coordinator
Oswegoland Park District