Singing twins have a sweet second career
Identical twins Deborah and Sandra "Sam" Fanelli have dual careers, both of which started in the kitchen. In the 1960s, they harmonized around the dinner table with their older brother, Leonard; later, as "the Fanelli Twins," they became stars of The Al Alberts Showcase on WPVI-TV.
Identical twins Deborah and Sandra "Sam" Fanelli have dual careers, both of which started in the kitchen.
In the 1960s, they harmonized around the dinner table with their older brother, Leonard; later, as "the Fanelli Twins," they became stars of The Al Alberts Showcase on WPVI-TV.
The statuesque pair - they were 5-foot-9 and classmates called them the "Jolly Green Giants" - went on to sing for 15 years in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and the Catskills, where a crowd at the Concord once gave their Rocky-themed dance number a standing ovation.
As their performing career wound down in the late 1980s, Deb and Sam launched a home-based business that since has become Fandessa Gourmet Baked Goodies.
The self-taught songstresses also taught themselves to make cookies and other delights based on recipes they inherited from their grandmother Josephine "Josie" Fanelli, who lived in Atco.
"When people say, 'Oh my God, your cookies are so good,' it's like applause," says Sam, 58, sitting across from identically dressed and tressed sister in the Clementon home where they grew up.
The paneled, bi-level room features a magnificent brick wall with twin, arched fireplaces their late father, Leonard, constructed 41 years ago in what had been an attached garage.
Family photos cover the mantel, and publicity stills of the sisters and their brother, with whom they sometimes performed, decorate an expansive bar worthy of a Mad Men set.
"That was Palumbo's," Deb says, pointing to a photo taken at the famed South Philadelphia restaurant and nightspot where they sang as members of Alberts' "Showstoppers" troupe.
The sisters credit Alberts, the Four Aces member who became a local talent impresario, with helping them get their first touring gigs.
"That was in the Atrium Lounge, at Harrah's in Atlantic City," Deb continues. "Here we are with Ann Jillian."
During their seven-year stand at Harrah's, which was punctuated with stints in the Viva Lounge at Trump Castle, Deb and Sam met Broadway legend Chita Rivera.
The sisters also encountered Sylvester Stallone and were good friends with heavyweight boxing champ Ken Norton, who took them dancing under the giant mirror ball at Jubilation, singer Paul Anka's disco in Vegas.
And as backup vocalists for soul singer Prentice T. Minner, with whom the twins toured for five years in the '70s, they performed at the Playboy Club in St. Louis.
These were rather sophisticated settings for two sheltered, devoutly Catholic sisters from Camden County. But white go-go boots, hot pants, and black leather tops notwithstanding, "it wasn't that wild," Deb says. "We never did anything we were ashamed of."
Harrah's dropped them in '89. "We were heartbroken," Sam says. Atlantic City was changing, the big-hair era was ending, and gigs dried up.
The sisters came home to Clementon for good in 1990.
"We worked hard and had a lot of fun," says Deb. "Sometimes we ask our mother, 'Are you sorry we never married and had kids?' She says, 'You gave your father so much joy, such a different kind of life.' "
"They were terrific!" their mother, Blanche, exclaims from across the room. She's 83 and shares the home with her daughters, who still sing occasionally ("we're available for weddings and funerals," Sam says) but devote the bulk of their time to Fandessa.
After each endured double hip-replacement operations several years ago, they decided to expand beyond their home-based business.
Sam and Deb began renting space in 2013 so they could produce goods in sufficient volume for local farmers markets and other venues. Their goal is to build a commercial kitchen of their own.
Deb mostly handles the business and promotional side, while her sister concentrates on the baking.
Sam prides herself on exquisite touches, such as her homemade almond paste for cookies. "I'm not going to squeeze it from a tube," she says.
The sisters, who complement (and compliment) each other, have an easygoing rapport. "Like two peas in a pod, since they were babies," says Blanche.
I ask them to describe their personalities.
"Sweet," says Sam.
"Spicy," Deb laughs.
A terrific combination.