By Kelly Ryan

DAVIS (CBS13) — Wednesday marked 50 years since civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Half a century later, Davis resident Aldo Marra is still emotional remembering the horrific crime and loss.

“I can’t believe he’s gone, even after 50 years. Could be 100, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

In June 1963 before taking his stage name, Aldo was simply Donald Marrapesse, a student attending the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. His opera coach told him to drive to Keuka College, about an hour away, to perform at a function.

“I had no idea it was going to be Dr. King; they didn’t tell me. As I was at the school, they just wanted someone to sing during the intermission, so they said, let’s send Marrapese,” he said.

He doesn’t remember what he sang, but the huge crowd that had gathered to see King speak sticks with him. Marra thought he wouldn’t get to see him through the large crowd, but to his surprise he found himself standing next to King.

“At one point he had his hand on my shoulder. I didn’t move! I didn’t want him to take it away; I just stood there,” he said.

The program from that day prominently hangs on his wall with King’s autograph.

Looking back on that June day, Donald Marrapese couldn’t have guessed he would become the famous opera tenor Aldo Marra, or that he’d be working with and mingling with dignitaries such as Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copeland.

But he says his biggest thrill was meeting the civil rights icon.

“He was a magnet, I mean you couldn’t pass by him without knowing or feeling something. A man like that lives only once, and that’s forever, that’s the way I look at it, just once,” he said.

  1. Kevin Frisch says:

    In case Donald or any of your other viewers are interested, we recently recovered a copy of Dr. King’s Keuka College baccalaureate address from that day. It can be accessed here:
    Kevin Frisch, Keuka College, Keuka Park, N.Y.

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