John Blangero’s accomplishments go beyond just another New Castle boy-make-good story.
Blangero, a native of Mahoningtown and a resident of Port Isabel, Texas, has found two areas of his life where his talents and achievements have catapulted him to global recognition.
Born and raised in New Castle, the 64-year-old scientist/musician is a renowned human geneticist who is ranked among the top 3,000 researchers in the world and has received many scientific citations.
He is also a pianist, singer, composer and recording artist whose music is heard nationally and in many other countries.
Blangero’s genetic research has been heavily funded by the National Institutes of Health, where he is reported to have received more than $64 million in direct funding for genetic studies of common diseases such as cardiovascular and psychiatric diseases and diabetes.
The native of Blangero got a chance to appreciate his cultural side up close this week at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, where he and his producer and other contributors presented his soon-to-be-released second CD, Signs and Wonders”, to a select group of guests, many of whom were his childhood and school friends.
A graduate of New Castle High School, Blangero grew up on Seventh Street in Mahoningtown, always sporting a full head of long, curly hair. Music was always in his soul as he grew up with popular hymns, gospel and classical music. He started playing the piano when he was five, he said.
But music was not in his career vision when he went to college at Youngstown State University. He first graduated in anthropology. He switched majors and enrolled at Case Western University in Cleveland, where he earned a doctorate in genetics. From there, he moved to San Antonio, Texas, to pursue his career in the intricate science of studying cells.
“That’s been my real joy for years,” Blangero said, “doing research and finding genes for complex diseases and currently, algorithms.”
Blangero is currently a professor in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine in Brownsville, one of the newest medical schools in the country, he said. He is also director of the Center for Genomic Computation at the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute.
In addition, he is director of the San Antonio Family Heart Study and played a major role in organizing the construction of the 11,000-processor MEDUSA computer cluster, which he and his collaborators use for genetic research in the Rio Grande Valley.
Before joining the university, he worked at the Southwestern Foundation for Biomedical Research. His research included a project focused on studying the function and structure of the human brain, which he collaborated with David Glahn of Yale University. He has also studied the genetic and environmental causes of diabetes and fatty liver disease among the Mexican-American population in South Texas.
“I’ve been very lucky in my career,” he reflected. “I’m much better known as a geneticist than as a musician.”
But music was always an integral, if sometimes dormant, part of his life. When he was 14, he joined the rock band Harlequin playing mostly in the Pittsburgh area. He began composing and singing his own music with the band.
During college and his career, “I gave up on music for a long time,” he said. He decided 25 years ago to get back into it and started playing blues live with bands in San Antonio.
His friend Nick Katona heard demos of songs Blangero had written and two years ago, he set up PeacockSunrise Records and signed Sun King Rising, which bears a logo of a sun with Blangero’s signature face. Blangero calls Sun King Rising his personal name.
His cousin, Jeff Schuffert, also of Mahoningtown, became one of his sound engineers, and Jeff’s brother Steve Schuffert, an accomplished Nashville guitarist and songwriter, plays on his albums.
“We were a musical family,” Blangero reflected.
Two years ago, Blangero hired Ace Acker, who previously played with the 1970s Youngstown-area rock and soul band LAW. Acker produced Blangero’s first album, “Delta Tales,” released in October 2020, which has about 13,000 Facebook followers and is big in Europe in the United Kingdom and Italy, and in Brazil, Blangero said.
Acker also produced “Signs & Wonders,” due out October 1 on CD, vinyl and streaming platforms.
Blangero describes his songs as a mix of southern rock and soul. Listening to them, one can discern the tastes of a wide variety of artists and composers, such as Leon Russell, Pink Floyd, Claude Debussy and Aaron Cohen.
Blangero recalled the difficulties of recording the first album in January 2020, which was on the verge of the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing travel restrictions, he and Acker completed “Delta Tales” remotely, with 32 players and singers recording in multiple studios across the country.
“Signs & Wonders” was recorded live in Ambridge at Maplewood Studio. Acker assembled a five-piece band, a horn section and background singers, with David Granati as sound engineer.
The first song of the album, “No. 6 Magnolia Avenue,” has a classic 60s/70s horn sound reminiscent of Chicago, Spiral Staircase and Blood, Sweat and Tears.
The “Signs & Wonders” half of the album features a lot of brass and soul, while the other half swings hard with a southern rock accent.
The premiere of the album included the presentation of a video for the song “Free Will in China Blue”. The video was created by local videographer Dante Ludovici and features some familiar Lawrence County scenes, including a horse farm in Wilmington Township.
The small audience was enthralled by the playing of the entire CD, before Blangero, dressed in black with a red and black brocade vest, approached the piano, offering a few songs he had written but no one would listen to. had heard before.
Acker promotes Blangero as “a brilliant musician”.
“John Blangero was a lifesaver for me,” he said. “He appeared in my life from the outside in November 2018. He befriended me, encouraged me and believed in me.
“Working with a genius like John has been an unspeakable blessing and an artistic joy,” said Acker. “John sings things that no other singer sings. It tells untold stories. He hits [butt] and he is my friend.”