Bandleader, KC icon Tony DiPardo dies at 98

Bandleader Tony DiPardo, a boisterous showman who for almost 45 years was the most visible Kansas City Chiefs booster in town, has died this morning. He was 98.

DiPardo, was a trumpeter and swing-era veteran who became a successful conductor of hotel and society bands here beginning in the 1940s. He later formed a booking agency through which he hired musicians — many of them skilled jazz players — for a wide variety of engagements and fielded numerous bands simultaneously under the DiPardo name.

The man who often called himself “Mr. Music of Kansas City” was known as a tireless promoter and a shrewd businessman who built a reputation as one of the city’s most ubiquitous bandleaders.

But DiPardo always considered his 20-year run as the Chiefs music director as a special chapter in his career.

“It was great,” he said once. “It was one of the highlights of my life in music, was being the bandleader for the Chiefs for 20 years. And I miss it.”

Indeed, DiPardo was so dedicated to the Chiefs that he was virtually a member of the team. He proudly wore a Super Bowl ring from the team’s only World Championship in 1970.

DiPardo began providing live music for Chiefs games in 1963, when the team played at old Municipal Stadium and games were not well attended. He became a visual symbol at home games, often donning a war bonnet and riding Warpath, the Chiefs’ mascot, around the stadium.

“Sometimes he could be too much of a fan,” said former Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson. “I remember being in the huddle and I was trying to call a play and he’d start up that ‘Charge!’ cheer with his trumpet. I used to tell Hank Stram, ‘Hey, can you get Tony to do that charge thing when the other team’s in the huddle?’ Do it when John Hadl’s trying to call a play.”

DiPardo stepped aside in 1983, when the organization decided to take the music in a different direction. But the team brought DiPardo back in 1989, the year his daughter, Patti DiPardo, became the band director.

DiPardo grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood in St. Louis, where he began cornet lessons when he was 9. His professional career began when he was 14 or 15 in St. Louis nightclubs.