Going against the grain is nothing new for singer and performance artist Rocco DeFinis
By Pete Kennedy
Rocco DeFinis was 5 years old, waiting in a crowd at Disney World for a stage performance to begin, when he got impatient.
“So I jumped on stage in front of hundreds of people, and started to cartwheel and do splits. Everyone thought it was part of the show,” he said. “My father cheered me on.”
That’s one of DeFinis’ earliest memories of feeling the thrill of performing. The 33-year-old Montgomery County native has spent
the years since as a singer, dancer and actor, and he’s focused now on getting signed to a
DeFinis recently released a music video for his song “Read,” produced by Grammy-winner James Cravero, and he’s working toward a full album. He describes his music as a blend of dance, vogue, soul, hip hop
Born Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, he goes by his middle name as a tribute to his late grandfather, Rocky Definis, who helped raise him. He grew up in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, the second-youngest of five children, splitting time between the homes of his divorced parents. His father was a bartender, so he and his siblings spent a lot of time with their grandparents.
“As a youngster, I was always going against the grain,” DeFinis said. “If the other boys were playing with G.I. Joes, I had a Barbie in my hand. If the other boys were wrestling, I was out cartwheeling with the girls on the playground.”
He knew he was different, but growing up in an Italian-Irish American family made it hard for him to accept the truth — that he was gay.
“I didn’t want to disappoint my father, or the rest of my family,” he said. “However, my father had a bigger problem with me doing a vegan fast for a month — meaning no mozzarella — than being gay.”
DeFinis’ sexuality has come to be one of his defining attributes, coloring both his art and path in life.
In 2008, shortly after coming out, he joined the advocacy group Soulforce Q for its Equality Ride, traveling through the South and visiting schools to promote equality and respect for LGBTQA students.
“Identifying as gay and Christian, I felt it could really open folks’ minds,” he said. “I knew my Bible a bit, and knew I could really speak to folks.”
The group encountered both support and opposition during their travels, he said, and he was arrested twice.
DeFinis has also competed in the Mr. Gay Philadelphia and Mr. Queer Philly pageants, earning Runner Up and Congeniality titles in the latter. One of his promotional pageant photos was taken outside the famous Geno’s Steaks in Philadelphia, and Geno Vento, the owner and son of founder Joey Vento, hung it in the restaurant alongside headshots of such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton.
In 2014, DeFinis was cast in the off-Broadway production of “My Big Gay Italian Wedding,” playing family friend Frankie, a role he’d later in “My Big Gay Italian Mid Life Crisis.”
“I had terrible stage fright the first few shows. I would just make lines up. The other actors were super patient. They knew I was getting the hang of it,” he said. “I’ve mastered my stage fright now.”
DeFinis has worked as a bar manager in Philadelphia’s gayborhood, but recently moved back to Lansdale to be with his mother, Joanne, who has terminal cancer.
“I felt that I wanted to really focus on her and my art,” he said.
He hopes to get a record contract so he can have the resources to create the album he envisions — so far, he has been paying the production costs himself.
“At the very least, I will continue releasing singles until I’m signed to a major label,” DeFinis said. “Never stop dreaming and moving forward.” IAH