Raritan's Singer of the 1940s Catherine Mastice
In the 1940s Catherine Mastice, a young singer from Raritan, achieved critical acclaim and local fame with her beautiful singing voice. She could be heard singing in many places: on the radio, at special events, in the St. Ann’s Choir, and at weddings. During World War II she often sang for the servicemen. Later fans of the opera and other shows could hear her singing in plays in New York City and at The Papermill Playhouse. She appeared on television in its early days. One of her gigs was singing in the 1949 Radio City Christmas Show. She sang many types of music with her specialty being opera.

Today, at age 86, she lives in White Plains, New York. When viewing the local newspapers of the 1940s headlines can be found saying “Raritan Songbird Entertains Soldiers At Famous Canteen”, “Catherine Mastice Guest Soloist at Recital”, “Catherine Mastice to Sing on WAAT Broadcast”. “Raritan Girl Announced Winner of $4000 Scholarship.”
Mention the name Catherine Mastice to some senior citizens who lived in Raritan, especially those who attended St. Ann’s Church in the 1940s, and many will give a passionate reference to what a wonderful singer she was. While many seniors will never forget Catherine, the local history publications have no mention of her. An extensive search on the Internet brings up just a one line reference listing cast members from an old opera. Hopefully this web site tribute will insure that Catherine Mastice is remembered.
Born in Trenton on June 11th, 1925, she moved to Raritan when she was four years old. They lived at 91 West Somerset Street which is just across from where the Quick Chek is today. Lou’s Gun Shop now occupies the building. She started singing in the choir when she was 12 years old. Her music teacher was so impressed with this gifted student, she arranged for Catherine to sing at the 1939 World’s Fair which was being held in New York City. Her performance at The Temple of Religion earned much praise and recognition. The New York Times on August 27th, 1939, in a review of the events from the previous day said “The highlight of the musical program at the Temple of Religion was the singing of Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” by Catherine Mastice, 14 year old mezzo soprano of Raritan New Jersey.”

During one of her performances a talent scout from NBC radio heard her and offered her a job singing on a radio show. This show was a children’s music show that was broadcast nationally out of a studio in New York. She sang regularly on this weekly show that was broadcast at 10:30 AM on Saturday Mornings. Later she sang on another NBC program called “The Bright Idea Club” which was on at 2:30 PM on Saturday afternoons.
In October of 1941 her singing earned her a $4000 Scholarship (a large amount in 1941) to The Chatham Square School of Music in New York City. She was able to attend the music school the very next week after being granted the scholarship. Still a senior in high school, but being very energetic and ambitious she would take the train to New York City right after school a couple afternoons a week to attend her evening classes at The Chatham School. She would return home around 9:30 PM in time to study and do homework for her regular high school.

Often a requested performer by the local residents, she even sung at her own graduation from Somerville High School in June of 1942. She entertained the crowd by singing “Voices of Spring”. The principal said Catherine “was voted most likely to put Somerville further on the map.”
When the U.S. entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Catherine did her part on the homefront as she turned her talents to entertaining the soldiers. During World War II a military base called Camp Kilmer had been built in Piscataway. This was a large facility that held tens of thousands of our troops. (Livingston Campus of Rutgers is at that location today.) At Camp Kilmer Catherine sung weekly for the troops. There she often sung duets with a male singer. The troops came by the hundreds to hear her sing. On one occasion she traveled to New York City to sing at the famous club The Stage Door Canteen. This was a special club that was created to entertain soldiers on leave. Many celebrities of that era made appearances at this club. On the day she performed she was accompanied by a pianist who had played with Louis Armstrong and other popular big bands.

Catherine played a big role in what has been labeled “The Greatest Day in the History of Raritan”. In September of 1943, after John Basilone had been awarded The Congressional Medal of Honor, he was brought home to a hero’s welcome. The town of Raritan threw him a large welcome home parade that was followed by a bond rally on Duke’s Estate. The town officials asked her to sing at this rally. Over 30,000 people attended. She sung two songs. The first was God Bless America. The other song was a special selection that had just recently been written by two Raritan men (Joe Memoli and Bill Jack) for John Basilone. It was called “Manila John”. Catherine sung this new song with Manila John standing next to her. She said that at the end of the event John Basilone thanked her for singing.
After the parade and rally on that day she was invited to a dinner at a local restaurant where she met Generoso Pope. He owned several prominent Italian newspapers including the popular II Progresso Italo-Americano. He also owned a radio station WHOM. He was impressed with her singing and invited her to sing on one of his radio shows. She appeared on Generoso Pope’s radio station for a few years when one day he introduced her to his son Fortune Pope. Catherine and Fortune would begin dating and eventually marry.
When the war ended she continued singing locally at special events. The local resident’s always enjoyed her singing. John Pacifico, chairman of today’s John Basilone Parade Committee, recalled that she was a member of the St. Ann’s choir – and that choir not only sang in church on Sundays, but they were often requested to sing at many events outside the church. John remembers that Catherine, one of the soloists of the choir, was an outstanding singer.

In 1949 Catherine landed a role in The Radio City Christmas Show. Earning this role even surprised her. The show which started in 1933 was then a combination of a recent Christmas Movie and a stage show. Catherine sung two songs in the show. One was during The Nativity scene. She was an Angel up in the Sky (on a platform) where she sang “O Holy Night”. Since she was a big part of the show that year her picture was on the Billboard Poster that promoted the 1949 Radio City Christmas Show. Unfortunately, this poster appears to be lost to history. The Radio City Christmas Show that year had five showings per day - and it went on for eight weeks. Catherine recalls that it was tough to sing this many times for so many days, but as always she came through for her audience.
Her singing in The Medium can be heard on
this CD available at amazon.com. Click for details
Above are The Rockettes in 1949 at Radio City Music Hall
She had other parts in some Operas - one of her biggest roles was in “Madam Butterfly”. Landing the role was especially satisfying to her as hundreds had auditioned for this one spot. In her career she was able to make some recording. One of her roles on stage, “The Medium” was on Broadway. The producers had Catherine along with five other vocalists record the soundtrack to the show on several records. In the late 1940s she had singing parts in many shows at The Paper Mill Playhouse including “Merry Widow” and “Mikado”. Another assignment was a concert tour in the south called “Arista Artists”. Famous announcer Milton Cross was part of the show.

On one occasion she worked with one of the top entertainers of the era when she was on The Steve Allen Radio Show. On Television, she appeared with one of the biggest names in early television when she sang on The Milton Berle Show (official name was The Texaco Star Theatre). She recalled that Milton Berle was as nice off screen as he was on screen. After many shows and events she retired from professional singing when she was 26.
In 1952 Catherine would marry Fortune Pope. Her husband Fortune (along with his brother) had inherited their father’s business when he died in 1950. Along with the business he inherited his father’s influence, and Fortune used it for the better as he ran charity organizations and was involved in Italian-American affairs. This brought him and Catherine in contact with many prominent people. Fortune and Catherine would be invited to the White House many times over the decades, often for private dinners. She met six Presidents, starting with Truman, then Eisenhower, and in 1963 they had her picture taken with John Kennedy in the Oval Office. They would also meet President Johnson twice, and in later years Presidents Carter and Ford.

From singing in many types of shows, to meeting popular entertainers and U.S. Presidents, it was quite a journey for Raritan’s Catherine Mastice. When asked today what special memories does she have from her singing days, she fondly recalls singing for the servicemen at Camp Kilmer during World War II. She said “The boys were so enthusiastic. It gave me a wonderful feeling to sing for them”.