Joseph John Cicero Sr., former owner of Globe Poster, the Highlandtown printing company whose posters of such soul music legends as James Brown, Otis Redding and Solomon Burke are highly sought after by collectors and museums, died Tuesday of complications from diabetes at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He was 91.
Mr. Cicero was born in Baltimore and raised on Montgomery Street. After graduating from Southern High School, he worked briefly as a butcher before taking a job at Globe Poster, which was then located at 113 Hanover St.
The company that specialized in printing vaudeville, movie, burlesque and carnival posters had been founded in 1929 by Norman Goldstein and Harry Shapiro during a card game in Philadelphia, and after consulting a map, the partners decided to build their printing plant in Baltimore.
In 1934, Mr. Cicero went to work at Globe as a form pusher, moving the wooden letter-blocks back and forth and washing them off. Then he learned how to operate the company's letter presses and worked in the composing room.
During World War II, he served in the Navy from 1944 to 1945, and then returned to Globe.
After Mr. Shapiro bought out his partner in 1954, he promoted Mr. Cicero to shop manager.
The company's change of direction coincided with the arrival of rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues in the 1950s.
Music promoters favored the company's trademark use of a fluorescent ink known as Day-Glo, whose use on posters they pioneered.
The eye-catching Day-Glo look features strips of alternating fluorescent colors, floating black-and-white photos of such singers as Ike and Tina Turner, B.B. King, James Brown or Otis Redding, all longtime Globe customers, and various styles of black type.
"He worked his way up and eventually bought the company in 1975," said a son, Robert J. Cicero of Pasadena, who now owns and operates the business with another brother, Frances "Frank" Cicero of Monkton.
Globe later moved its operation to the Candler Building and then to a facility on Byrd Street in South Baltimore. Since 1999, it's been located on Bank Street.
As offset, silk-screen, automatic printing and Macintoshes replaced the old letter presses, the elder Mr. Cicero still preferred the old way of crafting posters.
"You see, the computer takes a lot out of it," he told The Sun in a 1997 interview. "In the shop, you put your hands in it and you set the type up, and you set it up the way you wanted it. You did everything yourself."
Mr. Cicero, a longtime Hillendale resident, enjoyed telling the story of an unknown singer, Paul Anka, whose name was at the bottom in a Day-Glo strip beneath better-known artists who were traveling together on a 90-day tour.
"He was real good, Paul Anka. He was only a young kid. We'd put his name up a little higher as he got popular. It would hold us up because the promoters would say, 'Don't do anything till we tell you,'" Mr. Cicero said in the interview.
"And we couldn't do anything until he says, 'Put Paul up higher.' And we put Paul up higher," he said. "You see where Paul is today. ... He's great. He wrote songs for Frank Sinatra."
Craig Flinner, owner of Hampden's Flinner Gallery, said yesterday, "Their posters have become collectible because they were originally printed as throwaways. Posters featuring early rock 'n' roll stars are very desirable."
Mr. Cicero retired in 1988.
"We gave him a retirement party, and he came back to work the next day," said Robert Cicero, laughing.
"He'd still come in, and we felt bad when he didn't. We're an extremely close family, and no matter what he said, we did," he said.
Frances Cicero said his father was coming in and operating presses until about three or four years ago.
"He gave his advice out of love and was a real cool guy with a great sense of humor," said Frances Cicero. "He was always joking and laughing and certainly didn't act like he was 91."
In addition to private collections, Globe posters have found their way into such museums as the Cooper-Hewitt, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Stax Museum of American Soul.
They have been featured in a coffee table book, The Art of Rock, and in Rolling Stone magazine.
Mr. Cicero enjoyed spending time with his family at a house on Bodkin Creek that he had owned for years.
He was a communicant of Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, 8501 Loch Raven Blvd., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
Also surviving are his wife of 67 years, the former Marie Elizabeth Glorioso; another son, Joseph J. Cicero Jr. of Hillendale; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.