The Way We Were: Gina Martinelli

The Way We Were: Gina Martinelli
Gina Martinelli with her dachshund, Puma

Gina Martinelli can, quite easily, be called Jacksonville’s version of Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks or any of the other well-known Sixties female singers. Just like many in show business, Martinelli was not born with her current name. Piano bar engagements in the 1970s inspired her stage name and current persona.

Gina Martinelli on the road during the 1970s

Gina Martinelli on the road during the 1970s

“After being Jean, Italian last name unpronounceable, and then Jean, husband’s last name, someone suggested Gina Martini. Then, uh oh, too many cat calls from the patrons at the bar, so I changed it to Gina Martinelli,” said the purple-haired Avondale resident.

Born in Manhattan, Martinelli grew up on Long Island in a Catholic Italian family. Musically gifted – she plays half a dozen instruments – Martinelli started taking piano lessons at age four.

“The fifth song in the piano book was called ‘Swans on the Lake.’ Something clicked. I was transported and I realized that the piano was a way for me to go anyplace that I wanted to go,” said Martinelli. “My parents gave me a Steinway grand piano when I was 10. Music was the window to my own Wizard of Oz.” 

Martinelli married and moved to Jacksonville in 1973. “It was June 13 – the same day my daughter was born. I got off the plane and went to St. Vincent’s to have a baby!” she said.

A year later, she made her Jacksonville piano debut with the Bill Davis Trio in 1974, then went solo playing six nights a week at every imaginable venue – Sawgrass, Amelia Island, Adam’s Mark, The Sheraton at St. Johns, the Hilton, the Sea Turtle, Epping Forest, the Seminole Club, University Club, the Boca Raton Resort, to name a few. Her portfolio contains numerous letters from satisfied managers and visitors.

In 1984, a letter of recommendation from the manager of the Holiday Inn stated, “Martinelli’s music and talent are of a superior level. She has always been most effective at making people of all types feel welcome and at home.” From the Beatles to Rachmaninoff, Martinelli has pages and pages of tunes at her nimble fingertips.

Many of her more than 60 original compositions were inspired by her piano engagements. From her CD, “Both Sides of the River,” she said the song “Carillon Joy” was born at the Aetna Building.

“I was playing a beautiful grand piano in the marble and glass lobby. People started coming out of their offices; they heard the same bells I heard ringing through the piano. It was a magical day! ‘Maison Blanche’ was written when there was a store with that name. I was playing for their grand opening – people coming down the escalators would smile and say, ‘Have a nice day.’ I called it my Happy Shopper’s song. ‘Stepping Out’ was written in 2006 inspired by a night I spent in Rio de Janeiro. I have to spread joy and my gift – playing the piano. I do not squander my talents,” she said.

An artist as well as a musician, Martinelli was also Artist in Residence for the Florida Dept. of State and Cultural Affairs from 1995 to 1998. She has participated in numerous galleries and juried exhibits all over the state.

Keith Molineaux and Gina Martinelli perform a duet in her home, 2016

Keith Molineaux and Gina Martinelli perform a duet in her home, 2016

Check out the relief sculptures – a panther, turtle, alligator and other animals called the Florida Critters collection, which Martinelli created in the early 1980s at the Plainfield Library in Orange Park, or the three-foot sand dollars cast in fiberglass for the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club.

When she first arrived in Jacksonville after growing up in New York, Martinelli said she experienced “a grand silence. I thought I had stepped into the Dukes of Hazzard. But now I see a large, vibrant creative arts community in Jacksonville which is continually growing.”

Martinelli has put her stamp on that community with her music and art, and continues to do so at her Avondale home, where she hosts visitors locally and from around the world. “I’ve given people a place to congregate. People feel welcome to come eat, make music, create and celebrate, whether it’s Tuesday – Yea! It’s Thursday – Yippee,” she said.

Martinelli holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education from Adelphi University, a Bachelor of Fine Art in Sculpture and an education certification from the University of North Florida, and a master’s degree in progress in Advanced Curriculum Studies.

“I had been doing art for years but wanted credentials. I taught every grade level at various schools in the county, in public and private schools, for 33 years,” said Martinelli. “My last seven years I taught at Jacksonville Country Day School.”

Martinelli has three children – Jennifer Kratz, Adam Hoyles (who is married to Jennifer Herrick Miller, Martinelli’s “favorite model who became my daughter-in-law”) and Lisa Jutras. She has five grandchildren with one on the way and one great-grandchild.

“My children always came first. They are beautiful and all turned out to be wonderful people,” said Martinelli with a glow as she spoke about her family. “It all hinged on what the children were doing. I wanted to be available for my children and worked my schedule around them.”

Gina Martinelli, circa 1980

Gina Martinelli, circa 1980

After being married for 30 years, Martinelli and her husband (whom she declines to name) parted ways. “It was the worst thing that ever happened but it was the best, too. I needed to come to grips with my happiness – I had to find that in myself, in my children, cooking, having a beautiful garden and in the constant pursuit of beauty,” Martinelli shared. “I love Jacksonville – the river – it gives me a small-town feeling. We did a good job with our kids. Now it’s just me and my dog Puma and my muse.” 

On what would have been their 48th anniversary, she received a note from her former spouse acknowledging the time they shared together and thanking her for being a good parent. She reciprocated and then invited him to her home to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

As for birthdays, Martinelli recently celebrated her 70th and shared the occasion with more than 100 friends and family in her whimsical 1924 cottage and studio. Her eclectic collection of friends is rivaled only by the drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs and theatrical memorabilia she has created or collected over the past 50 years.

In her home, you might spy a marvelous painting by her mother, her 60-year-old Steinway, the first two sculptures Martinelli created in high school, parasols suspended from the kitchen ceiling, sparkly things suspended from a chandelier, and a handmade chair that “was a birthday gift a few years ago. A friend came over with some sticks and made two chairs for me in exchange for lunch,” Martinelli said.

A true child of the Sixties, Martinelli is passionately happy to be alive, passionate about making music and art, and passionate about sharing her message: “Peace, Love and Kindness – the rest is Poppycock.”

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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