Perry Como - Biography
By J Poet
Perry Como was one of the most popular crooners in American music, a laid back superstar before the word was coined with a relaxed style that made him a perfect TV personality during the uptight 50s. From 1950 until 1963 he hosted the hour long Perry Como Show, a variety program that featured him singing viewer’s requests as well as pop standards. After the show ended, he made monthly and seasonal specials for NBC until he retired to Florida in 1987. He died quietly in 2001, six days before his 89th birthday. Como received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1987; he was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.
Como was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, into a family of 13 children. His father Pietro was a singer and provided music lessons for all his children. Como played trombone in the town's brass band and organ in church. After high school, he opened a barbershop and married his sweetheart, Roselle Belline, singing with Freddy Carlone's band on weekends. In 1936, he was hired to front the Ted Weems' Orchestra and made his first records. When Weems stopped touring in 1942, NBC radio offered him a co-starring spot on the Chesterfield Supper Club program with Jo Stafford, a 15 minute broadcast that went out five nights a week. RCA signed him and one of his first singles “Till the End of Time,” was a million seller.
The Chesterfield Supper Club moved to TV in 1948, increasing Como’s national profile. He started appearing in his trademark cardigan sweaters and loafers, which increased his friendly, low-key appeal. Ha had bit parts in several movies in the 40s, Something for the Boys (1944), Doll Face (1945) and If I'm Lucky (1946), but felt his style was more suited for TV than the big screen.
In 1950, Como signed with CBS and hosted the half hour Perry Como Show until 1955. The program was a smash and sent his albums rocketing up the charts. His early 10” albums include TV Favorites (1952 RCA), Hits from Broadway Shows (1953 RCA), and Como's Golden Records (1954 RCA.) In 1955, he moved to NBC, with an hour-long show. While he still performed local concerts, most of his time was taken up with his hourly show, which gave his releases the kind of national exposure other acts had to work tirelessly to obtain. As LPs came in, Como made albums around unified themes like So Smooth (1955 RCA), Relaxing with Perry Como (1956 RCA), A Sentimental Date with Perry Como (1956 RCA), We Get Letters (1957 RCA), Saturday Night With Mr. C (1958 RCA), Como Swings (1959 RCA) and the gold Season's Greetings From Perry Como (1959 RCA.) He was also topping the charts with #1 pop tunes like "Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom,)” “Round And Round,” and “Catch A Falling Star,” his first gold single. “Catch A Falling Star” also took home 1958’s Best Male Vocal Performance Grammy. In keeping with his modest image, Como asked RCA to stop having his singles and albums certified for gold records, even though he was routinely selling millions of albums.
The Perry Como Show lasted until 1963 and Como’s easy listing albums continued to sell. Titles include For The Young At Heart (1961 RCA), By Request (1962 RCA), The Best Of Irving Berlin's Songs From Mr. President (1963 RCA), The Songs I Love (1963 RCA), The Scene Changes ~ Perry Goes to Nashville (1965 RCA), and Lightly Latin (1966 RCA.)
In the 60s, rock was remaking the music business and after leaving his TV show, Como went into semi-retirement. He continued making TV specials – his Christmas shows were extremely popular into the late 80s – and recording on a limited basis. He made The Perry Como Christmas Album (1968 RCA), later certified gold, Perry Como In Person at the International Hotel, Las Vegas (1970 RCA), the live recording of a month long engagement that broke attendance records and featured his friend Ray Charles, I Think of You (1971 RCA), And I Love You So (1973 RCA), Perry ~ The Way We Were (1974 RCA), and Where You're Concerned (1978 RCA.) His 1976 tour of Australia sold out every date.
Como stopped recording in 1980, but returned for one last album with long time producer Nick Perito in 1987, Perry Como Today ~ The Wind Beneath My Wings (RCA.) Como continued making Christmas specials; his last record was the self-financed Christmas Concert 93 (1994 Teal) a live recording of a Dublin performance that was also filmed for a PBS special. A three CD box, Yesterday & Today--A Celebration in Song (1993 RCA) collects 51 of his best performances from early 78s to his last session. Como died quietly at his Florida home in 2001.