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Perry Como

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Perry Como

Background information
Birth name Pierino Roland Como
Born May 18, 1912, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, United States
Died May 12, 2001, Jupiter Inlet Colony, Florida, United States
Genre(s) Pop standards
Swing
Pop
Years active 1933–1994
Label(s) Decca
RCA Victor

Pierino Roland "Perry" Como (May 18, 1912 – May 12, 2001) was an American crooner during the 20th century. Throughout a career spanning more than half a century he recorded exclusively for the RCA Victor label after signing with it in 1943. He sold millions of records for RCA but he also pioneered a weekly musical variety television show which set the standard and proved one of the most successful in television history. His combined success on television and popular recordings has never been equalled by any other artist of the time.

A popular television performer and recording artist, Perry Como achieved numerous hit records throughout the world with record sales so high the label literally stopped counting at Como's behest. His weekly television shows and seasonal specials were broadcast throughout the world for which his popularity seemingly had no geographical or language boundaries. He was equally at ease in live performance or in the confines of a recording studio. His appeal spanned generations and he was widely respected for both his professional standards and the conduct of his personal life. In the official RCA Records Billboard Magazine memorial, his life was summed up in these few words: "50 years of music and a life well lived. An example to all."

Well known American composer Ervin Drake said of him, " . . . occasionally someone like Perry comes along and won't "go with the flow" and still prevails in spite of all the bankrupt others who surround him and importune him to yield to their values. Only occasionally."

Perry Como received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1989, and was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

Early years

Como, an Italian American, was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, 20 miles south of Pittsburgh, the middle child of 13 children. Although he always liked to sing, his first great ambition was to be the best barber in Canonsburg. After graduation from high school, he opened his own barber shop. In 1933, he married his teenage sweetheart, Roselle Belline, whom he had met at a picnic in 1929 when he was just 16. They remained married until her death in August 1998 at age 84. Como was reportedly devastated by her passing.

Professional singer

Perry Como and Superman
Perry Como and Superman

In 1933 Como joined Freddy Carlone's band in Ohio, and three years later moved up to Ted Weems' Orchestra and his first recording dates. Their first recording was a novelty tune called "You Can't Pull the Wool over My Eyes", recorded for the Decca Records label.

In 1942 Weems dissolved his band, and Como went on to CBS, where he sang for a couple of years without any conspicuous success. By this time the erstwhile barber had definitely decided to return to Canonsburg, his family, and his barbering. Just as he was about to abandon his singing career once and for all, two NBC producers stepped in, returning him to show business for the NBC radio program Chesterfield Supper Club. Later he became a very successful performer in theatre and night club engagements.

In 1945, Como recorded the pop ballad "Till the End of Time" (based on Chopin's "Polonaise in A-Flat"), which marked the beginning of a highly successful career. Como was the first artist to have ten records sell more than one million copies. Similarly, his television show achieved a much higher rating than that of any other vocalist to date.

Como had, according to Joel Whitburn's compilations of the U.S. Pop Charts, fourteen U.S. #1 singles: "Till The End Of Time" (1945); "Prisoner Of Love" (1946); "Surrender" (1946); "Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba" (1947); " A - You're Adorable" (1949); "Some Enchanted Evening" (1949); "Hoop-De-Doo" (1950); "If" (1951); "Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes" (1952); "No Other Love" (1953); "Wanted" (1954); "Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)" (1956); "Round And Round" (1957); and "Catch A Falling Star" (1958).

On March 14, 1958, the RIAA certified Como's hit single, "Catch a Falling Star" as its first ever "Gold Record." His final Top 40 hit was a cover of Don McLean's "And I Love You So", recorded in 1973.

He recorded many albums of songs for the RCA Victor label between 1952 and 1987, and is credited with numerous gold records. Como had so many recordings achieve gold-record status that he refused to have many of them certified. It was this characteristic which made him so different from his peers, and which endeared him to legions of fans throughout the world. Over the decades, Como is reported to have sold millions of records, but he commonly suppressed these figures.

By the 1980s, the atmosphere of recording had changed dramatically from his early days at RCA Victor. Como's recording sessions had previously been filled with laughter and joy. In his 1959 recording of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town", listeners with headphones can hear him burst into laughter during one amusing orchestra passage. But in later years, the sessions deteriorated into much more sombre occasions. For this reason, he walked away from his final studio-produced recordings in the early 1980s. He returned to record a final album for RCA with his trusted friend and associate Nick Perito in 1987. His recording of "The Wind Beneath My Wings'" was almost autobiographical, a fitting end to a long and successful recording career. Como would record only once more, in 1994, privately, for his well-known Christmas Concert in Ireland.

Vocal characteristics

Perry Como modelled his voice and style after Bing Crosby as most male singers of the 1930's and 1940's did. Perry Como's voice is widely known for its good-natured vocal acrobatics as portrayed in his highly popular novelty songs such as "Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)". But there was another side to Perry Como aptly described by music critic Gene Lees in 1968:

"Despite his immense popularity, Como is rarely given credit for what, once you stop and think of it, he so clearly is: one of the great singers and one of the great artists of our time. Perhaps the reason people rarely talk about his formidable attributes as a singer is that he makes so little fuss about them. That celebrated ease of his has been too little understood. Ease in any art is the result of mastery over the details of the craft. You get them together to the point where you can forget about how you do things and concentrate on what you are doing. Como got them together so completely that the muscles don’t even show. It seems effortless, but a good deal of effort has gone into making it seem so. Como is known to be meticulous about rehearsal of the material for an album. He tries things out in different keys, gives the song thought, makes suggestions, tries it again, and again, until he is satisfied. The hidden work makes him look like Mr. Casual, and too many people are taken in by it — but happily so. I have of necessity given a good deal of thought and study to the art of singing, and Como’s work consistently astonishes me. He is a fantastic technician. Listen in this album to the perfection of his intonation, the beauty of the sound he produces, the constant comfortable breath control. And take notice of his high notes. Layman are often impressed by the high note you can hear for five blocks. Professionals know that it is far more difficult to hit a high note quietly. Como lights on a C or D at the top of a tune as softly as a bird on a branch, not even shaking it. And then there’s his phrasing. A number of our best singers phrase well. The usual technique is to rethink the lyrics of a song to see how they would come out if you were saying them, and then approximate in singing the normal speech inflections and rhythms. This often involves altering the melody, but it is a legitimate practice and when done well can be quite striking. But Como is beyond that. He apparently does not find it necessary to change the melodic line in order to infuse a song with emotion. A great jazz trumpeter once told me, "After fifteen years of playing, I’ve come to the conclusion that the hardest thing to do is to play melody, play it straight and get feeling into it." Como has been doing this from the beginning. Stylistically, he comes out of the Bing Crosby-Russ Colombo school. That was all a long time ago. Como has been his own man for many years now. He sounds like nobody else. And nobody sounds like him, either. He is hard to imitate precisely because his work is so free of tricks and gimmicks. There are no mannerisms for another singer to pick up from him. All one can do is try to sing as well and as honestly as Como, and any singer who does that will end up sounding like himself, not Como."

Television

Perry Como made the move to television when NBC televised the Chesterfield Supper Club radio program on December 24, 1948. In 1950, he moved to CBS and the show's title was changed to The Perry Como Show. Como hosted this 15 minute musical variety series on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, immediately following the CBS Television News. The Faye Emerson Show was broadcast in the same time slot on Tuesday and Thursday.

Como's 15 minute television show continued through the early 1950's. in 1955, The Perry Como Show was moved to Saturday night and expanded to an hour long. In 1959, Como moved to Wednesday night, hosting the Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall for the next five years.

Como became the highest-paid performer in the history of television to that date, earning mention in the Guinness Book of World Records. Prior to this, Como competed with Jackie Gleason in what was billed the "Battle of the Giants", and won. This is now rarely mentioned, in part because Como commonly played down his own achievements.

Como had numerous Christmas television specials, beginning on Christmas Eve 1948, and continuing to 1994, when his final Christmas special was recorded in Ireland. After his weekly TV series ended in 1963, Como's television specials became bi-monthly, then monthly, and were finally limited to seasonal specials celebrating Easter, Spring, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, ending in 1987. They were recorded from many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, Rome, Austria, France, and many locations throughout North America. Como's Christmas concert in Ireland was his final special, and the last of his commercial recordings.

A farewell concert from Ireland

In January 1994, Como travelled to Dublin, Ireland, for what would be an auspicious moment in his long career of more than sixty years. 1993 would have marked his fiftieth anniversary with the RCA Victor label as well as his forty-fifth year of television specials celebrating Christmas and its importance throughout the world to people of all faiths. Como's Irish Christmas was produced for the American PBS public television system and despite Como looking aged and unwell, has been re-broadcast annually since 1994.

Death

Como died quietly in his sleep on May 12, 2001 at his home in Jupiter Inlet Colony, Florida, six days before his eighty-ninth birthday. He was reported to have suffered from symptoms of Alzheimer's disease throughout the final years of his life.

Trivia

Perry Como's birthplace of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania is also the birth place of popular singer Bobby Vinton. Vinton always claimed to be from Pittsburgh, while Como always said he was from Canonsburg.

The comedy show SCTV featured a popular sketch with Eugene Levy as "Perry Como: Still Alive!" in which the singer was portrayed as so laid-back that he sang while lying down. The sketch became well enough known to have been mentioned in obituaries, which reported that Como had been greatly amused by it.

Como's sugary Christmas track "Christmas Dream", complete with warm lyrics and charming German schoolchildren as the chorus, was used in the holocaust / Nazi-pursuit film The Odessa File, forming a memorably ironic, bitter and satirical introduction to the film as John Voight drives through a modern brightly lit Hamburg at Christmas.

Long Play Albums

  • 1955 So Smooth
  • 1957 We Get Letters
  • 1958 Saturday Night With Mr. C
  • 1958 When You Come To The End of The Day
  • 1959 Como Swings
  • 1959 Seasons Greetings From Perry Como
  • 1961 For The Young At Heart
  • 1961 Sing to Me Mr. C
  • 1962 By Request
  • 1962 The Best of Irving Berlin's Songs from Mr. President
  • 1963 The Songs I Love
  • 1965 The Scene Changes
  • 1966 Lightly Latin
  • 1966 Perry Como In Italy
  • 1968 The Perry Como Christmas Album
  • 1968 Look to Your Heart (Perry Como Album)
  • 1969 Seattle (Perry Como album)
  • 1970 Perry Como In Person at the International Hotel, Las Vegas
  • 1970 It's Impossible
  • 1971 I Think of You
  • 1973 And I Love You So
  • 1974 Perry (Album)
  • 1975 Just Out of Reach
  • 1977 The Best of British
  • 1980 Perry Como (album)
  • 1981 Perry Como Live On Tour
  • 1983 Perry Como, So It Goes / Goodbye for Now
  • 1987 Today (Perry Como album)

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Document License
It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Perry Como