Death of Matthew Cross
Ringling Bros Circus Band Leader
St.Petersburg - Matthew Cross, husband, gentle man and professional circus musician, died October 9 in St. Petersburg, Florida after a courageous struggle against cancer. He was 64 years old. The story of his life can be told only through his passion for music; his amazing talent as a keyboard artist; and his unabashed love and devotion to Christine, his wife of 41 years.
The son of a music teacher, Matt knew from a young age that music would play a major role in his life. Throughout his journey, he "always played in a band." He loved all kinds of music from classical and rock to electronic. But his true calling was playing live circus music, a skill he perfected over his 35-year career as a professional keyboard artist.
A native of Alliance, Ohio, Matt graduated from Kent State University with a degree in history and played in local bands. In 1979 he landed a job with the band of King Bros. Circus, but his first job was short-lived when the circus folded before he had a chance to learn the "ins and outs" of accompanying a live circus performance. But the circus bug had bitten him, and would take hold for life.
His next circus gig was with Monte Carlo Circus touring cities across the country. Within a year, however, he joined the granddaddy of American circuses – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – as a member in its traveling band. His high school sweetheart and love of his life, Christine Santoro, were married in 1980, and left home to join Matt at The Greatest Show On Earth, thus beginning a true-to-life circus love story that would last four decades and be filled with countless cherished memories visiting dozens of cities 11 months a year.
Matt and Christine led a charmed life that would be only a fantasy to most. They "ran away with the circus" together, traveled the country from coast-to-coast on a circus train, and spent practically 24-hours a day together year in and year out for more than three decades. During that period, they worked with five different Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey touring units, including an international unit that played Japan. Matt also accompanied a circus headliner to Monte-Carlo, where he met Prince Rainer of Monaco.
The couple "got off the road" in 2000, returning to their permanent home in St. Petersburg, Florida. But neither was ready to settle down to a sedate lifestyle in retirement. They missed the nomadic life so much, they returned once again to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 2004: Matt as a keyboard artist and Christine as the show's business manager. Matt permanently retired from circus life in 2014, but never abandoned his music. Christine continues to hold a staff position in the corporate headquarters of Feld Entertainment, Inc., in Ellenton, Florida, parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
Matt was easy-going, friendly, mild-mannered and unflappable, described by friends as "the consummate musician and gentleman" and a man who never uttered an unkind word. His favorite slogan was "play nice" and his favorite pet was his Beta fish! Matt made the perfect complement to Christine. Sharing their lives together, Matt and Christine became one of the most well-respected couples ever to grace The Greatest Show On Earth, beloved by stars, staff, crew, and fellow band members alike.
Matt is survived by his wife, Christine and his mother, Helen Cross of Alliance, Ohio. He is preceded in death by his father, Edward Cross and his brother, Mark Cross.
Matt is sorely missed by his many circus friends. Rest in Peace, dear Matt, and as one bids farewell in circus life: "See ya down the road!"
Friends and families are invited to a casual gathering to remember Matt at the Elks Pavilion, 606 Glamorgan St. in Alliance, Ohio on Sunday, October 31 from 1pm – 3pm. Masks are required.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Suncoast Hospice Foundation, 5771 Roosevelt Blvd., Clearwater, FL 33760.