Como, Perry (1912—)

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Como, Perry (1912—)

Crooner Perry Como rose to become one of the dominant American male vocalists of the 1940s and 1950s, and retained a rare degree of popularity over the decades that followed. He achieved his particular fame for the uniquely relaxed quality of his delivery that few have managed to emulate—indeed, so relaxed was he that his detractors considered the effect of his smooth, creamy baritone soporific rather than soothing, and a television comedian once parodied him as singing from his bed.

Born Pierino Como in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, the seventh of 13 children of Italian immigrants, Como began learning the barber trade as a child, with the intention of buying his own shop as early as his teens. Forced by his mill-worker father to finish high school, he finally set up his own barber shop in 1929. In 1934 he auditioned as a vocalist with a minor orchestra, and sang throughout the Midwest for the next three years, before joining the Ted Weems Orchestra. The orchestra thrived until Weems disbanded it in 1943 when he joined the army, but by then Como had developed quite a following through the years of touring and performing on radio, and his effortless baritone was a popular feature of Ted Weems's 78 rpm records. CBSrecruited Como to radio, thus starting him on what proved to be one of the most successful and long-running solo vocal careers of the

century. He also became a highly popular nightclub performer, and signed a recording contract with RCA Victor. Several of his singles sold over two million copies, one over three million, and he had many Top Ten and several number one hits over the years.

By late 1944 Perry Como had his own thrice-weekly radio show, Supper Club, on CBS, which from 1948 on was renamed The Perry Como Show and broadcast simultaneously on radio and television. He became one of the most popular of TV stars, keeping that show until 1963, and then hosting The Kraft Music Hall every few weeks until 1967. One of his noteworthy contributions to music as a radio showman was to invite Nat "King" Cole, R&B group The Ravens, and other black entertainers to guest on his program when most shows were still segregated, or featured blacks only in subservient roles.

In 1943 Como was signed to a motion picture contract by Twentieth Century-Fox. He appeared in Something For The Boys (1944), Doll Face (1945), If I'm Lucky (1946), and, at MGM, one of a huge all-star musical line-up in the Rodgers and Hart biopic, Words and Music (1948), but did not pursue a film career further, preferring to remain entirely himself, singing and playing host to musical shows. Como's best-selling singles included "If I Loved You," "Till the End of Time," "Don't Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes," "If," "No Other Love," "Wanted," "Papa Loves Mambo," Hot Diggity," "Round and Round," and "Catch a Falling Star"—for which he won a Grammy Award in 1958 for best male vocal performance. As well as his numerous chart-topping successes, he earned many gold discs, and recorded dozens of albums over the years, which continued to sell very well when the market for his singles tailed off towards the end of the 1950s. In 1968, however, he was approached to sing the theme song from Here Come the Brides, a popular ABC program. The resulting "Seattle" was only a minor hit, but it got Perry Como back on the pop charts after a four-year absence, and his singles career further revived in 1970 with "It's Impossible," which reached number ten on the general charts and number one on the Adult Contemporary charts.

After the 1960s, Como chose to ease himself away from television to spend his later years in his Florida home. Nevertheless, he continued to tour the United States twice a year well into the 1990s, enjoying popularity with an older audience. In 1987 he was a Kennedy Center honoree, and was among the inductees into the Television Academy Hall of Fame a few years later. Few performers have enjoyed such lasting success.

—David Lonergan

Further Reading:

Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows. 5th Ed. New York, Ballantine Books, 1992.

Nite, Norm N. Rock On Almanac. 2nd Ed. New York, Harper Collins, 1992.

Whitburn, Joel. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. 6th Ed. New York, Billboard Books, 1996.