Leonarda Priore was born and raised in Utica, the daughter of Salvatore and Mary Domenico Alberico Priore.
She is one of nine children. She was the fourth girl to enter the world as a Priore.
The Priore family consisted of Margherita Rose, Palma and RosaLinde who came before Leonarda Mary. After that came all the boys: Salvatore Fortunato, Daniel, Anthony, Nicholas and Joseph.
All the Priore children received all the sacraments at Mount Carmel Curch.
Mary (Alberico) Priore grew up and was raised across the street from the church. After she married Salvatore, the Priore family moved into their home on Hammond Avenue that was built and each stone cut by Salvatore (a stone mason). Though they left the church neighborhood, they always still called Mount Carmel their parish home.
Lee recalls how every Sunday morning the entire Priore family would load into the family station wagon and head to Mass. Dad would walk in first with all the children in tow and in a row. He would find an empty pew near the front of the church on the right side and stand proudly at the pew as his wife and all the children filed past him into the pew.
The girls always helped mom take care of the little boys. Lee recalls her mom always holding a little one in her arms at Mass. To this day, these memories of church are close to her heart and to all her family.
Lee always loved music and was especially drawn to singing. At an early age, she joined her cousin Kathy Alberico at the Neighborhood Center and sang with the choir there. That is where she really got her start in music and she is ever grateful for all those who helped her achieve so much in that capacity.
Though being from such a large family was a great blessing, Lee also often felt as though she was just “one of many” children. That is why music quite literally gave Lee her own special voice! She never looked back.
She joined the choir at Mount Carmel when Helen Ehlinger was the organist — a blessed and happy time for her. Her sister Palma joined her in the choir loft and they garnered relationships that remain with Lee to this day — especially one that she holds most dear: Peter Elacqua and the entire Elacqua family.
Peter’s mother, Flora, was an integral part of Lee’s participation in the church during her formative years. As the years passed, there probably were thousands of weddings, funerals and Sunday Masses when Lee sang as a soloist with Peter and with so many other members of the choir — memories of people she cherishes deeply.
Church was such a huge part of her upbringing — all of the biggest moments for her family were celebrated in this amazing church with its entire extended parish family.
Lee studied voice for more than 20 years with Pasquale Caputo, a “fixture” at Mount Carmel as a soloist who had a deep influence on Lee’s musical career.
She recalls asking him to give her voice lessons because her voice would be very tired after a weekend of singing in a band at two or three wedding receptions and clubs. She brought a Donna Summer song to audition with at his home. She wanted him to hear her sing the type of music that was causing her voice such strain. He was a sweetheart and listened intently without judgment.
When she finished singing the piece, Pasquale told her, “It does not matter what type of songs you are singing. There is only one way to sing, and that is to sing with the correct technique.”
That was the beginning of her introduction to opera, classical music and to so many wonderful endeavors with Pasquale — the Utica Opera Society, the B Sharp Musical Club and so many other wonderful musical moments through the years.
Although the years took Lee far from the doors of Mount Carmel, the parish family remains close to her heart — every member of her family still belongs to the parish. She has fond memories of Father Peter, Father Henry and Father Salerno, the Knights of St. Charles with their gorgeous garb and swords; the sermons, the feasts and the music! Mount Carmel always was, and will always be, the center of her faith and a home for her heart.
Each celebration of life, each goodbye to family happened in this most treasured church. Too many goodbyes to speak of — Salvatore, Mary, Palma, Daniel and dear Nicholas — dad, mom, sister and brothers to Lee.
Father James Cesta, Peter and Anne Carlone Elacqua have welcomed Lee repeatedly with open hearts and open doors to come home whenever she could. Moreover, home is where she wishes to be again. Coming full circle so to speak, back to the only place that has been her spiritual home — St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church.
Lee is looking forward to making much more music at Mount Carmel and with our parish family, which truly is her spiritual family. She brings with her the experiences of many years of performing around the country and abroad along with those of her opera company of 17 years that she co-founded in New York City: Chelsea Opera. What an honor to be able to embark on expanding her reach back to home.
Along with her remaining Priore family members who support her endeavors financially and otherwise, Margherita Collis, RosaLinde Priore, Salvatore F. Priore, Anthony Priore and Joseph Priore, Lee is looking forward to collaborating with her parish to bring even more musical and artistic performances to this most gorgeous church.
Many will be in memory of her dear brother Nicholas S. Priore, Esq., who was taken much too soon and who was one of those people that everyone loved. A wonderful music talent himself, Lee and her entire family raise him up along with Dad, Mom, Palma and Daniel who are soaring with the angels now.
Music is Leonarda’s way of speaking from her heart and she is ever grateful that God and this parish have given her so many ways to share her gift.