Ocean City resident Aro Rose performs. (Photos courtesy of O’Connor family).


Things are happening at a frenetic pace in the world of Aro Rose, the artist formerly known as Amanda O’Connor.

If you haven’t yet heard of Aro Rose, it probably won’t be long before you do. The 22-year-old singer-actor, songwriter, public advocate and a 2017 graduate of Ocean City High School, will release her debut single, “Damaged,” on Sunday, Aug. 29.

The song, which she wrote and arranged, was inspired by her personal situation, but it is relatable to anyone facing adversity.

In addition to the single, Aro Rose will launch the official music video, produced by former Ocean City resident William Murray, and her new website, www.arorose.com.

Though technically released Sunday, most people won’t see it until Monday, Aug. 31.  That’s because Aro Rose wanted the release date and time to be “9-11” as a tribute to that heartbreaking day when she lost her mom — and the wife of her dad, Bill O’Connor — to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The releases will be less than two weeks before the 20th anniversary of Diana J. Vega O’Connor’s death.

Diana was among the nearly 3,000 innocent people who died during al Qaeda’s hijacking of four planes and subsequent murder-suicide attacks.

“The message of the song came from my own life experiences. But it can be applied to almost anything – any tough experiences,” Aro Rose said. “Everyone faces issues. The message is to not give up. Keep pursuing your hopes and dreams.”

The moniker Aro is a longtime nickname, an acronym for Amanda Rose O’Connor.

Her mother, Diana, the 15th of 16 children, was only the second in her Brooklyn family to graduate from college. She went on to become managing director at Sandler O’Neill and Partners, an investment banking firm.

She was just 37 years old when she died, along with 2,752 others in the WTC attacks.

Diana J. Vega O’Connor, Aro Rose’s mom, was a victim of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

In the early days, months and years following Diana’s death, Bill and Amanda were in a dark place.

Bill suffered from profound grief and anxiety. Amanda bounced around to five different schools in six years. Father and daughter both experienced separation anxiety.

Additionally, living in New York came with regular unwanted reminders of their loss.

“I had to drive past Ground Zero on my way to work, and there were all the commemorations and news stories,” said Bill. “Amanda was the only kid who did not have a mom. That was extremely difficult for us both, especially on family holidays.”

When it was time to register for high school, Amanda remembered Ocean City, where they had happily vacationed in the past.

“I told my dad we should (move to O.C.),” Aro Rose said. “We could make a new start and move on with our lives.”

The more Bill thought about it, the more he liked the idea. Ocean City was close enough to New York for easy family visits, but far enough away to escape the constant reminders. So, Bill quit his job as a New York public schools administrator and took on a new gig as a full-time dad.

Bill and Amanda O’Connor on the red carpet for a recent Hollywood event.

It wasn’t long after the O’Connors’ move to Ocean City, that Amanda became more involved in music, writing songs around her poetry and using the artistry as an emotional outlet.

One of the songs, “Don’t Cry for Me,” caught the attention of her neighbor, Gabriel Maciocia, an artist, producer and songwriter whose resume includes working with 1960s icons the Four Tops and Tommy James.

“She has a soulful voice. The song was really pretty and the lyrics were just as good,” Maciocia said. “It told a story.”

Maciocia, 73, encouraged Amanda to make an audition tape. He worked with her, adding instrumentation and tweaking arrangements and going into the recording studio to  lay down the tracks.

“It was a confidence-booster to have such a professional not only believe in my music, but also to help me put it together commercially,” Aro Rose said. “He has been such a mentor.”

Before long, she had enough material for an album.

Aro Rose describes her style as a mixture of pop, soul and R&B. With Maciocia’s help, she landed a recording contract and readied an album, also titled “Damaged.”

“It’s been busy and a lot of work, but also a lot of fun,” she said of the whirlwind surrounding the upcoming release dates.

Mediawize publication, OCNJDAILY.com caught up with her in between her rehearsals, photo and video shoots, podcast interviews and a visit to her favorite local nail salon.

She credited Grass Roots Music store owner Chris Leibrandt for being a big part of her success.

In addition to his large selection of guitars, ukuleles, vinyl records and other products, Leibrandt has a studio space where the artist practices and sometimes just hangs out.  Leibrandt is also helping Aro Rose begin learning the technical side of audio production.

“Grass Roots is a place where the customers are part of the store,” Aro Rose said. “Sometimes you walk in there and people are sitting on the floor, going through the vinyl or playing a ukulele. You’re not going to find another place like it.”

Aro Rose’s music career is reaching new heights.

So what’s next for Aro Rose? On 9/11 itself, she will be part of the Music and Fashion Celebrity Gala Concert featuring fashion designer Sue Wong, Corey Feldman, Randy Edelman, Leland Sklar of the band Toto, and many others.

The event will take place at the Rumi Event Space in Manhattan and will include a Red Carpet at 5 p.m. and the main event from 7 to 11 p.m.

Among the show’s beneficiaries is Operation Warrior Shield, which provides support programs for armed forces members, veterans, first responders and their families.  According to its website, the organization focuses on transition, health and wellness, and other services for at-risk groups and individuals.

The concert is described as “an evening of celebration, laughter, entertainment and joy.” Not what one would expect to mark one of the most tragic days in American history? Aro Rose begs to differ.

“I think my mom would want us to have fun,” she said, then recalled a very special first birthday present.

Diana gave Amanda a grand piano in the hopes her daughter would get into music.

She accomplished that and then some.

After her graduation from high school, Aro Rose was accepted into the prestigious Lee Strassberg Academy for acting and took college courses.

Ocean City entertainment artist Aro Rose.

Like most of the world, Aro Rose was affected by COVID-19, which interfered with several events and planned cross-country travels. She looked at each challenge as a chance to live her message about overcoming adversity.

Her father, Bill, said that her strength makes him proud.

“The word I keep coming back to is ‘courage,’” Bill said. “To pursue a dream like this, you have to be willing to take the hits. It takes courage and strength to keep moving through it to keep the dream alive. I’m so proud of her hard work and ability to stay the course.”

Aro Rose said that it is in honor of her mother, Diana.

“I always remember mom’s wish for me when I’m doing anything music related,” she said. “She would be proud of my dad and me. We’ve had some difficulties, but here we are. We’re still here.”

Categories: Downbeach

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.