Arts & Music
Singing twin Sammy Arena, toast of Ybor, dead at 81
TAMPA - After making their debut in a Tampa maternity ward 81 years ago, Sammy and Andrew Arena enjoyed the celebrity and spotlight of the entertainment world. The twins billed themselves as Tampa's first recording artists, laying down tracks on vinyl since 1959. Sammy Arena died early this morning. The brothers' last show together, a near sell-out, was in August at the Centro Asturiano theater in Ybor City. "A lot of people here have had experiences with them over the years," said Rick Duran, director at Centro Asturiano. "They're a legend in Tampa's entertainment field. And they sounded great. It was a really nice show." Duran said he got an email this morning relaying the news about Sammy Arena."It was 3:45 this morning when he passed," Andrew Arena, the other half of the act, said today. "He had congestive heart failure and a kidney transplant several years. Everything just shut down on him. It was his time to go." Andrew Arena said his brother had been hospitalized but was brought home four days ago under hospice care. Tuesday, Sammy was brought back to the hospital and slipped into a coma, Andrew Arena said. "When they began administering morphine, he came alive," his brother said. "He opens his eyes, looks around the room and says, 'What's the occasion.' " He died shortly after, with dozens of relatives and friends nearby, Andrew Arena said. "He's in a better place, maybe. He suffered for so long." The Centro Asturiano show was a smash, Andrew Arena said. "We had 900 people there. We had the place going. It was one of best shows this town has ever seen." The act began in the 1950s doing benefits for local civic clubs. They also began performing at events sponsored by politicians running for office, including one for former Gov. Bob Graham, Andrew Arena said. The Arena Brothers recorded 14 records. "It's been a great career," he said. "We sang in the Catskills, Vegas and Miami." In the 1960s, Andrew got married and Sammy headed out on his own. He did that for about 12 years. "He did very well," Andrew Arena said. "He was on Broadway and even did a couple of movies." The brother act got back together and became a 37-year-staple for USO shows, he said. Losing a sibling is difficult, he said. Losing a twin brother is devastating. "It's especially hard," Andrew Arena said. "Looking at him in the bed, I couldn't hardly look at him anymore. It looked like me laying there." The brothers were born Sept. 1, 1931, at the old Centro Asturiano Hospital, the first set of twins ever born there. The twins grew up around Ybor City, doing all sorts of jobs as kids, from shining shoes on Seventh Avenue to selling newspapers. When they were 14, they talked their way onto the stage at the Cuban Club as part of a "Fiesta in Tampa" show. Andrew Arenas said he's not sure what the future holds for him. "At this point, I don't know what I'm going to do. He was my leader; he was the leader of the group."
[email protected] (813) 259-7760