Many vocal singing groups of the 1940s were combinations of either all white male and female vocalists or all African American male singers. The exception was a quartet of brothers from Maiden, Massachusetts that had the distinction of having no tenor or soprano voices; the Ames Brothers relied on bass and baritone voices to create a unique and different sound. The brothers were endowed with perfect pitch and a strong ear for music. The group was led by the youngest of the four, Ed, and complemented by brothers Joe, Gene and Vic. Ed was the youngest of 13 children born to David and Sonja Saslaveski Urick on July 9, 1927; each of the brothers was separated by two years.
The immigrant Uricks were married in the Ukraine and came to the United States through Ellis Island with their first child. David was 16 and Sonya was 15 when he quickly began teach himself English by reading newspapers and underlining words he did not understand so he could later determine their meaning. Within two years, he became a copy editor for the New York Times and later relocated to Boston as an advertiser and printer. The Urick family lived in poverty and by the time the last child was born, four children had already died. Their mother insisted her children learn to read. Classic novels and reading Shakespeare’s work were a regular part of their intellectual training. “One of my first memories as a four year old was sitting around with the others and my mother making us read Shakespeare and excerpts from Julius Caesar as he was warned of the Ides of March,” Ed recalled to Contemporary Musicians. “On Saturdays she would bribe us by making cookies so that we would sit and listen to the Metropolitan Opera and the great singers of the day, including Ezio Pinza and Giovanni Martinelli.” This inspired the Ames Brothers to enjoy singing; when they found after-school jobs, they would go to a malt shop and listen to the juke box and try and sing like the Ink Spots or their idols, the Mills Brothers.
Ed described the poverty he experienced in this way: “When I was ten, half the time was spent in hospitals being treated for starvation and malnutrition. I had horrible skin eruptions all over my body and rickets where the bones had not been developed. My mother would buy a loaf of black Russian bread which was very course and tasty. She would take garlic and rub the crust and that would be our dinner. We were constantly being evicted and put out on the streets and left to find another place to live.” Being confined with sickness enabled Ames to concentrate on learning to read; the effects of poverty served as a catalyst to educate him. Today his home is filled with hundreds of books because of the love he developed for reading as a child.
When they first began to sing they were known as the Urick Brothers and were noticed while sitting on a stone wall at Franklin Field in Boston. They were
Born Edmund Dantes Urick on July 9, 1927, in Maiden, MA; son of David and Sonja Saslaveski Urick; married Sara Cacheiro, 1948; divorced c. 1970; married Jeanne Arnold, 1998; children: (with Cachiero) Sonya, Ronald, Linda. Education: Attended the Boston Public Latin School and the Herbert Berghof Acting School, New York City.
Began career in Boston, MA, singing with his brothers Gene, Joe, and Vic in local clubs; the Ames Brothers signed to the Coral record label, had a double-sided hit with country songs “Rag Mop” and “Sentimental Me,;” 1949; performed with Art Mooney and Hugo Winterhalter’s orchestras; group disbanded, 1960; Ed began solo career, performing and acting in television, summer stock, and on Broadway.
Awards: Billboard magazine, Best Vocal Group, 1958; Cash Box, Best Vocal Group, I960; Vocal Group Hall of Fame, 1998.
Addresses: Home —Ed Ames, 1457 Claridge Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
encouraged to use their talent by joining others who performed in and around the Boston area. They soon began to sing at charitable events and made their debut at the prestigious The Fox and Hounds supper club in Boston’s Beacon Hill. Ed was still in high school at the time but passed for older than 21 and was allowed to sing at the club. Later they performed at the Latin Quarter in Boston, which was owned and operated by Lou Walters, the father of television journalist Barbara Walters.
At the advice of the wife of an entertainment agent, they moved to Woodside in Queens, New York. But their dreams for success were shattered as no one wanted a male singing group, especially because they lacked tenor voices. Ed said, “We were so poor that we walked from our home most every day to New York City because we didn’t have the forty cents in round-trip subway fare. Although our clothes were torn and tattered, they were clean as we visited agencies seeking work.” They continued to audition and were told no one wanted a sound with “low voices.”
After several months they met Jacques Wolfe, a composer of African American music and he helped them find work at the all-African American Apollo Theater at 125th Street in Harlem. They were the only Caucasian group and performed African American spiritual songs they had learned from observing African American singing groups and even provided back-up vocals to the great Mahalia Jackson. “Each weekend the Apollo held an amateur night and on one occasion a young, skinny, little black girl singer stole the show with her performance. It was Sarah Vaughan, and later we worked together at the Strand Theater on Broadway,” Ames recalled.
They met Abe Burroughs the author of Guys and Dolls who suggested they change their name because it was too hard to remember. The Uricks came up with the name “Armory Brothers” after a prominent family in Boston. Burroughs felt a shorter name would be better and recommended “Ames.”
Decca Records, who was looking for a group that could sing a cappella signed them; however, their first recording, “A Tree in the Meadow,” which was released on a 78 rpm in 1948 with vocalist Monica Lewis, had little success. A year later they moved to the Coral label and released two former country songs “Rag Mop” and “Sentimental Me” and it became a double-sided hit. In 1951 their recording of “Undecided” became another big hit. It had been written in the 1930s by then-21-year-old musician Charlie Shavers who played trumpet in Benny Goodman’s band. Although at that time the song had no title nor lyrics, Goodman’s orchestra regularly played Shaver’s composition. One night Goodman left a note for Shavers that read “Have you found a name for the song-undecided?,” wishing to imply was he still undecided on a title. Shavers interpreted the note to mean that “Undecided” would be a favorable title and enlisted the aid of lyricist Sid Robin, who added lyrics.
After six years with Coral Records they moved to RCA in 1954 and recorded more than 60 singles and extended-play 45s, many with arranger and conductor Hugo Winterhalter. From 1950 to 1964, the Ames Brothers recorded more than 40 albums on the Coral, RCA, Vocalion, Epic, and MCA labels. Top ten hits included a German tune “You, You, You,” the French popular song, “Melodie D’Amour,” “The Man With the Banjo,” “It Only Hurts For a Little While,” “My Bonnie Lassie,” and “The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane,” a novelty song that also sold more than a million copies and was a top ten hit in the United Kingdom.
In their early career the Ames Brothers went on the tour circuit and performed at the Roxy Theater in New York, Ciro’s in Hollywood, the Capitol and Howard Theaters in Washington, the Royale in Baltimore, Chez Paree in Chicago, Leon and Eddie’s in Manhattan and the Riviera near the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, as well as many others.
Their television credits include appearances on CBS’s Ed Sullivan Show in 1957, 1958 and 1959, NBC’s Steve Allen Show in 1957, the Pat Boone Chevy Showroom on ABC in 1957, ABC’s American Bandstand in 1958, and CBS’s 1959 New Year’s Eve Party to mention a few.
When the group disbanded in 1960, Vic, Gene and Joe continued on the nightclub circuit for two years fulfilling existing contracts and then opened their own nightclub in Houston, Texas. Joe later went to Europe to advance his career as an operatic singer and study classical music while Vic went to Nashville, Tennessee and performed as a stand-up comic, night club host, singer and as a part-time booking agent for country acts. Gene became a painter and visual artist before settling in as an interior designer.
Ed tried to find work as a single performer using his rich baritone voice while also pursuing an acting career but was repeatedly turned down. He turned to making commercials and voice-overs; he provided one for the Walt Disney Studios. Financially struggling, he almost lost his home but won the role of Arthur in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Another major accomplishment was his role as the stoic Indian with Kirk Douglas and Gene Wilder in the stage version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1963. He also appeared on the stage in an off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks playing the part of El Gallo in 1964. This led to the release and successful hit “Try to Remember” which became one of his signature songs. He was hired to perform in the road show production of Gower Champion’s “Carnival” and when the national touring company production came to an end, he returned to New York City and remained with the show on Broadway until its final performance.
His acting skills caught the eye of Hollywood television casting directors and he was signed to play the part of the Oxford-educated Native American, Mingo, in the ABC television series Daniel Boone opposite Fess Parker. He remained on the series from 1964 until 1968 and remains close friends with Parker today. He also starred in Richard Rodger’s musical version of Androcles and the Lion. Ames has appeared at nightclubs, concert halls and many theaters across the United States and has released more than 20 additional albums as a soloist.
Ed made guest appearances on many television shows both as a singer and actor that included Murder She Wrote, The Rifleman, Personality, Kraft Music Hall, It’s Gary Shandling’s Show, and In The Heat Of The Night, to name just a few. He was a frequent guest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; the April 29, 1965 episode of that show became infamous as the night when while demonstrating his tomahawk-throwing prowess, Ames threw it directly into the crotch of the drawn figure of a man.
He was given a new contract with RCA Records with the express purpose of recording music from Broadway plays. Although the song “My Cup Runneth Over” had been performed by Mary Martin and Robert Preston in /Do I Do, Ed’s rendition went virtually unnoticed on an LP record until a DJ from Georgia began playing it on the air after an argument with his girlfriend. Demand became so great that RCA released it as a single and it quickly rose in the top 20 charts of March 1967.
After the Daniel Boone series completed its long run, Ed sang in many concerts around the United States and also appeared in the road company version of Man of La Mancha. He was a frequent performer at the major hotels in Las Vegas including the Sahara, the Riviera, the International and most of the finer establishments on the Las Vegas strip.
Ed Ames continues to be a headliner in countless concerts throughout the United States as well as performing as an actor and vocalist in plays, nightclubs and other venues. For more than 15 years he has donated his talent to helping the homeless by performing in the annual charity benefit for the Chabad House in Los Angeles.
The Ed Ames Album, LSP 2944.
My Kind Of Songs, RCA LSP 3390.
Songs Of Bacharach And David, RCA LSP 4453.
More I Cannot Wish You, RCA LSP 3636, 1966.
It’s a Man’s World, RCA, 1966.
Time, Time, RCA, 1967.
When the Snow is on the Roses, RCA, 1967.
My Cup Runneth Over, RCA LSP 3774, 1967.
Who Will Answer? And Other Songs Of Our Time, RCA, 1968.
Apologize, RCA, 1968.
The Hits of Broadway and Hollywood, RCA, 1968.
A Time for Living, a Time for Hope, RCA, 1969.
The Windmills of Your Mind, RCA LSP 4172, 1969.
Songs from Lost Horizon, LSP, 1972.
The Impossible Dream, ANL, 1978.
Very Best of Ed Ames, Taragon, 2000.
Sing A Song Of Christmas, Coral CRL 56014, 1950.
In the Evening by the Moonlight, Coral, 1951.
Sentimental Me, Coral CRL 56024, 1951.
Hoop-De-Doo, Coral, 1951.
Sweet Leilani, Coral, 1951.
Favorite Spirituals, Coral, 1952.
Home on the Range, Coral, 1952.
Favorite Songs, Coral, 1954.
It Must Be True, RCA Victor, 1954.
Four Brothers, RCA Victor, 1955.
Exactly Like You, RCA Victor LPM 1142, 1955.
The Ames Brothers, MCA, 1956.
Ames Brothers Concert (live), Coral, 1956.
Love’s Old Sweet Song, Coral, 1956.
The Ames Brothers with Hugo Winterhalter, RCA Victor, 1956.
There’ll Always Be a Christmas, RCA Victor, 1957.
Sweet Seventeen, RCA Victor, 1957.
The Sounds of Christmas Harmony, Coral, 1957.
Love Serenade, Coral, 1957.
Destination Moon, RCA Victor LPM 1680, 1958.
Smoochin’ Time, RCA Victor, 1958.
Words and Music, RCA Victor, 1959.
The Blend and the Beat, RCA Victor, 1960.
Hello, Amigos, RCA Victor, 1960.
Hello Italy, Epic BN26036, 1963.
Knees Up, Mother Brown, Epic, 1963.
For Sentimental Reasons, RCA Victor, 1964.
Down Memory Lane With The Ames Brothers, RCA Victor 2981, 1964.
Sweet and Swing, RCA Special, 1986.
The Best of the Ames Brothers, Varese Vintage, 1995.
The Very Best of the Ames Brothers, Taragon, 1998.
Inman, David, The TV Encyclopedia, Perigee Book, 1991.
Lax, Roger and Frederick Smith, The Great Song Thesaurus, Oxford Univ. Press 1989.
McAleer, Dave, The All Music Book of Hit Singles From 1954 to the Present Day, Miller Freeman Books, 1994.
Osborne, Jerry, Rockin Records, Osborne Publications, 1999.
Warner, Jay, The Billboard Book of American Singing Groups, A History, 1940-1980, Billboard Books, 1992.
Goldmine, October 20, 2000.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.eom/cg/x (October 2000).
“Ed Ames,” least, http://www.icast.eom/artist/1,4003,1026-5636246,00.html (November 27, 2000).
“Ames Brothers,” least, http://www.icast.eom/artist/1,4003,1010-29367,00.html (November 27, 2000).
Additional information was obtained through interviews with Ed Ames on October 21, 2000 and October 23, 2000.
—Francis D. McKinley
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