Josephine (Joanne) Sabatini, nee Pezze, lived a long, full, creative life. She was born in Manhattan, on the edge of Harlem on March 19, 1923, St. Joseph’s Day. The middle child in a family of eight, her Mother, Theresa Souzi, and her father, Rocco Pezze, had immigrated to the United States early in the century. Rocco had jobs as a laborer and, with so many children, Theresa became the caretaker and ruler of the home. The family moved several times but finally wound up in Washington Heights in a railroad-style apartment on 184th Street, just off StNicholas Avenue. The Pezze family of five women and three men were smart, funny, resourceful Italian-Americans who persevered through the Depression era, married and built solid lives, providing Grandma Pezze, as she became known, with 17 grandchildren.
Their lives are a novel, or at least a mini-series, though each was a character worth a book in his or her own way. Josephine was bright, artistic, energetic and, though devoted to her Mother, independent. In high school she played trumpet, could sew, sing, write and became editor of the school paper. But she had to drop out just before graduation to work. Multi-talented she sought out jobs and tried to make it as a photographer, singer, seamstress and more. She made friends and contacts with people who she would know for years after. In the mix of the local entertainment and fashion worlds, she found herself at midtown, working at the Persian Shop on Madison Avenue, for Hollander Furs and as a performer at the Aquarian Club and the Green Room at The Henry Hudson Hotel. She often spoke about entertaining at the Canteens where military men went during the war years. A photographer, Lillian Thompson, mentored her and Joanne found herself among news people and among passing celebrities like Gloria Vanderbilt, Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor, The Inkspots, and a long list of others. Throughout her life, she loved the movies and old songs of her era, most of which she knew by heart. In and around New York, there are photographs of Joanne in her twenties in a bathing beauty contest, as entertainer and at family gatherings with her sisters and brothers: Louise, Nicholas, Anne, Rosalie, Marie, Danny and Anthony. Still living in the neighborhood after the war and working in a garment factory, she wound up dating an Army Veteran, Arthur Sabatini, from The Bronx. They were married in 1947 and moved to an apartment on 180th Street near The Bronx Zoo. Two children later, named Arthur and Vincent, she opened a dressmaking and alterations shop JoAnne’s Alterations, on Tremont Avenue in the early 1950s. In addition to being able to manage a business and cut and sew fabric, she had an uncanny ability to “copy’ designs and create lookalike outfits for her customers. After a few years, she made a connection with a women’s clothing manufacturer in mid-town and designed a lightweight two-piece outfit for casual wear, called The Livable Lounger. It was a one-piece, capri pants jumpsuit with a short removable skirt that tied in a bow in front. It was timely and stylish. The company marketed it across the United States in stores like Macys and Saks. Pretty cool, but it meant touring around the country to promote it. A few years later she designed the “Paka-Rolec-Rain Pack” a rain coat that could be folded into its own zippered pocket. Before it could be patented, the company fired Joanne and shortly after that, the family moved to Lakewood, New Jersey. In Lakewood, she and Arthur had their third son, John. Living in a house of their own in Lakewood, she continued sewing and designing clothes for private customers. With the ability to create just about anything with fabrics, she made dolls and handcrafted accessories that she sold at craft fairs all over Central Jersey. Among her best sellers were a series of “Mountain Men” that were meant to be set up in the home during the Christmas Holidays. But she also went on singing and entertaining in community centers and clubs, retirement homes and hospitals. Naturally, she made her own outfits and put together shows featuring the songs of her generation. Between the songs, she would talk about her sons, husband and family. Through the 1980s, she and accompanists George and Dotty Hughes played regularly at venues and for special events.
A devout Catholic, she also became a member of the Choir at St. Mary’s of the Lake. Over the years, she often volunteered and found time to help people. She knew people in government, the church and around town. In the late 1970s, she and Arthur took in her aging mother, Theresa, and her youngest brother, Danny, who had retired from a career in the publishing and printing industry. Both have passed away. Arthur and Joanne, as she was known, were married for 58 years until Arthur’s death in 2005. Still energetic and with a lot to accomplish, she sold the house in Lakewood and moved to Whiting, New Jersey. She brought her sewing machine with her and filled the garage with fabrics, cartons of patterns, buttons, lace, beads and enough specialty items to open another store. But she didn’t sew very much. She continued to sing with the Choir, went on treks to Atlantic City, met up with friends and enjoyed the benefits of a Senior Citizen. One of her tasks was to finally collect all the photographs, news clippings, interviews and notices about her life. In other file boxes, she labeled the tape recordings and videos of her many performances over the years. She eventually filled four large loose leaf folders with items about her and it adds up to quite a remarkable life story. She was a beautiful person, a spirit and she will be missed.
She is survived by her loving sons, Arthur (Merilyn Jackson), of Philadelphia and Phoenix, Vincent of Hawaii and John (Debbie) of Cherry Hill; grandchildren, Ariel Sabatini, Philip Sabatini, Luca Sabatini-Grace (Meagan) and Liann Borromeo, Hannah Schaffer and Jacob Schaffer; great-grandchildren, Nathan, Emberli, Alawe, Jotham, and Valerie and numerous nieces/nephews.
A Memorial Mass will be offered at 12 noon on Thursday, March 7th at St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church, 43 Madison Ave., Lakewood, NJ. Inurnment will follow at St. Mary of the Lake Cemetery in Lakewood. Aaron Cremation Associates, Whiting, NJ is in charge of arrangements.
There are so many more things to say and memories to add. Please feel free to write in about Joanne....