Edna Hobson Cellucci, 86, of Berwyn, a middle-school teacher in Springfield, Montgomery County, and half of a husband-and-wife musical team that performed across the globe, died Sunday, June 7, of heart failure at Opal, a senior community in Naples, Fla. She was in Florida to be near family.
Dr. Cellucci was born in Wayne, the daughter of Winifred Pryor and Thomas Hobson. A child prodigy, she began playing the piano at age 3 and singing at 7.
At St. Katharine of Siena School in Wayne, which she attended for 12 years, she was the school’s accompanist for five of those years. She graduated from St. Katharine and Immaculata College, now a university.
She wanted to be a doctor, but in 1954 when it became clear that she couldn’t afford medical school, she switched her focus and earned a master’s degree in education from Temple University.
Beginning in 1954, she spent 38 years teaching math and science to seventh, eighth, and ninth graders at what was then Springfield Junior High School in Montgomery County. It is now a middle school.
Many of her students told the family that Dr. Cellucci “was the hardest teacher” they ever had. Several credited her with their choice of teaching as a career.
But her thirst for higher learning was unslaked. She earned a second master’s degree in math and science, and a doctorate in education from Widener University. Throughout her studies, she had all A’s, her family said.
While still an undergraduate, Dr. Cellucci competed in a talent show at Villanova College, now a university. She played the piano and sang “Dancing With You,” a song that she had written. In the audience was a young man named John R. Cellucci. The moment she began playing, he was smitten.
“She’s it,” he thought, according to family lore. He elbowed his way through the crowd to meet her. They married in 1959. Her husband was an engineer and builder.
For fun, they formed a musical partnership in which she played and both sang. “They sang all over the world,” said daughter Kathleen “Kate”. Much of the music they performed was Irish lullabies and Broadway show tunes.
When China and Russia opened their borders to Americans, Dr. Cellucci and her husband were among the first educators to go there.
“In Italy, they performed in castles; in Ireland, pubs; in France, churches; in Germany, brew houses; in China, schoolrooms; and in Russia, hotels,” Kate Cellucci said. “For the whole world, she felt that music was the universal language. You could promote joy and peace, and it would get across to people.”
At home, she sang in the choir for 30 years at St. Monica Church in Berwyn. “My mom believed in singing in church, because singing is praying twice,” her daughter said. One of her favorite songs was Vince Gill’s “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” set to a 1-2-3 waltz tempo.
In the 1960s, before women entered the workforce in large numbers, Dr. Cellucci was already there, juggling teaching, child rearing, and performing.
She passed along her musical skills to her son, John H. Cellucci, who mastered drums and guitar, and to her daughter, who played piano and sang.
Some of the most entertaining moments came at the family’s homes in Berwyn and Avalon, N.J., when invited guests attended singalongs.
“John did the cooking, and Edna played and sang,” the family said. “You had to sing for your supper.”
During her musical career, Dr. Cellucci accompanied the opera singer Anna Moffo, opened for singer Lou Rawls at the Latin Casino, and played dueling pianos opposite Peter Nero.
Dr. Cellucci supported the Ocean City Pops, the Philly Pops, and the St. Monica choir as well as various Catholic and educational organizations. She was kind and energetic, with a tremendous work ethic.
“What I learned from her was if you work hard, you can succeed. She outworked everyone,” her daughter said.
She is survived by her husband, son, and daughter.