Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 13 September 1925, Chicago IL; d 5 June 1999) Singer, composer; also producer, pianist, drummer, writer, actor. One of the great jazz singers, his reputation for quality mainstream work unsullied by decades of ups and downs in the music business. He sang on radio with Coon/Sanders at age four, acted in radio soap operas at nine; toured with a band fronted by Chico Marx '42-3; formed group the Mel-Tones, recording under that name and with Artie Shaw '45-6 on Majestic; went solo. Hits on Decca with the Mel-Tones and Eugenie Baird on 'I Fall In Love Too Easily' (band singer Baird worked with Tony Pastor, Casa Loma band, on radio; she had an album on Design of Duke Ellington songs), with Bing Crosby on 'Day By Day' '45-6; Mel-Tones' own 'It's Dreamtime' '47 on Majestic; Tormé solo hits on Capitol '49-52 included no. 1 'Careless Hands' '49, top tens 'Bewitched' (with band led by Stan Kenton arranger Pete Rugolo) and duet 'The Old Master Painter' with Peggy Lee '50.
Known as 'The Velvet Fog' during the Mel-Tones period, he opened up c.'55 recording for Bethlehem and sang the way he really wanted to sing and his range increased about an octave, his art well suited to the golden age of mid-'50s, when he and others made albums for grownups backed by arrangers like Marty Paich while American radio broadcast only jingles. After that he did a lot of his own arrangements. He had begun writing songs at 15: 'Lament To Love' was a hit by Les Brown, top ten by Harry James '41; also 'A Stranger In Town' '44 (by Martha Tilton on Capitol '45), 'Christmas Song' '46 ('Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire'; hit record by Nat Cole), 'Born To Be Blue' '47, 'County Fair' '48 (in Disney's So Dear To My Heart), the last three co-written with Robert Wells (Robert Wells Levinson, b Raymond WA; he also collaborated with Cy Coleman, Henry Mancini, others), also 'Born To Be Blue', others. His composition California Suite on Capitol '49 with the Mel-Tones was later on Discovery. He acted in more than a dozen mostly pleasant and forgettable films '43-60 (e.g. Junior Miss and Let's Go Steady '45); did a TV show with Peggy Lee '51, got his own half-hour talk show that lasted until '58; he was nominated for an Emmy '56 as best supporting actor in Playhouse 90's The Comedian.