Patterico's Pontifications


Vic Damone, 1928 – 2018

Filed under: General — JVW @ 2:23 pm

[guest post by JVW]

Vic Damone, a smooth baritone in the golden era of Italian-American crooners, died yesterday of respiratory failure at a Miami hospital, his family announced. He was 89.

Born Vito Rocco Farinola in Brooklyn on June 12, 1928 to immigrant parents with a fondness for music — his electrician dad played guitar and sang while his mom taught piano lessons to neighborhood kids — Damone (the name he used professionally was his mother’s maiden name) recalls first being encouraged to pursue singing as a profession by hearing Frank Sinatra on the radio in the early years of the War. The moment is recounted in the liner notes to The Best of Vic Damone: the Mercury Years:

It was a Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn and I was about 13, maybe 14. We were having an early dinner. That’s how it is with Italian families, and early Sunday dinner. I was enjoying my pasta with the family. We were also listening to the radio and a very popular show at that time in the New York area was called The Battle of the Baritones. So we’re listening to this show and I suddenly hear this voice — it’s Frank Sinatra singing “(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance with You.” I jumped up from the table and put my ear as close as I could to the radio speaker. That’s when I knew singing would be my life.

Young Vic soon landed a job as an usher at the famed Paramount Theater, where Perry Como would overhear him singing to himself in an elevator and provide words of encouragement (Damone would name a son after Como, and Como would serve as the boy’s godfather). At 19 Damone was invited to perform on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts radio program. Milton Berle happened to be backstage, and was so impressed that he helped Damone land an ongoing engagement at Manhattan’s swanky La Martinique nightclub, where he came to the attention of Mercury Records co-founder Berle Adams who signed Damone to his first recording contract.

Damone’s first session at Mercury was to record an Italian folk song that Sinatra had recently cut at Columbia, “I Have But One Heart.” The recording featured several prominent Italian-American musicians: Jerry Gray (nee Graziano) who was Glenn Miller’s arranger wrote the arrangement for the song and conducted the orchestra, Johnny Guarnieri played piano, Frank Ferritti played trumpet, and Carmen Mastrone played the Italian balalaika. The record would reach number seven on the pop charts in the summer of 1947, an auspicious beginning for a new singer.

“You’re Breaking My Heart” was released in May 1949 and quickly rose in the charts to become Vic’s first and only number one single. He was now working with the Glenn Osser Orchestra and Mercury A&R man Mitch Miller, and his recordings of the era tended towards the audio bombast that Miller tended to favor. Because of that, for my money “I Have But One Heart” is the far superior record, in which Damone’s subtle and smooth phrasing isn’t overwhelmed by the arrangement, but I confess I have never cared for Mitch Miller as a session producer. Damone would follow Miller to Columbia Records in 1955 where he would have moderate success working with Percy Faith, Paul Weston, and even a young John Williams. His biggest hit at Columbia was the Lerner/Lowe composition “On the Street Where You Live” which spent six months on the charts in 1956, peaking at number four in a recording year which was dominated by Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel” along with Gogi Grant’s “The Wayward Wind.”

Oddly enough (and again, I think, a testament to being mishandled by Mitch Miller), Vic Damone’s album of Italian songs was not much of a hit, even though the genre proved to be very successful for Dean Martin and Jerry Vale. In a story common to the era, Damone turned out to not be a particularly good manager of his own wealth and was taken advantage of by people whom he trusted for financial advice, so as the 1950s closed out he found himself spending a great deal of time on the nightclub circuit paying off debts instead of in the studio building up a recording legacy. Another bankruptcy in the early 1970s would force him to spend numerous weeks each year playing in Las Vegas casino showrooms. He appeared in the MGM musical pictures Kismet and Hit the Deck, and hosted a variety show on NBC for a couple of seasons starting in 1962. He supposedly turned down the role of Johnny Fontaine in The Godfather (after Frank Sinatra had also reportedly turned it down) with the part ultimately being played by fellow crooner Al Martino. He married five times and divorced four times, including marriages to the beautiful but doomed actress Pier Angeli and later to actress/singer Diahann Carroll. He dated Ava Gardner before Frank did, and he was once allegedly dangled out the window of a high-rise apartment building for having broken off an engagement to the daughter of an important Mafioso, which necessitated the involvement of Luciano Family boss Frank Costello to broker a truce. He was a personal friend of both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. What a life.

In an era of Frank, Dino, Vale, Como, Martino, Tony Bennett, and other Italian crooners, Vic Damone held his own with his warm and rich baritone, even if his bad luck with record companies and financial difficulties sadly limit his recording legacy. His death leaves only Tony Bennett alive from that illustrious group, and with Bennett mostly retired now we can consider that chapter in our musical history closed. Rest in peace, Mr. Damone. We’ll send you off with your finest recording:


14 Responses to “Vic Damone, 1928 – 2018”

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    happyfeet (28a91b)

  2. Unless I missed it, ‘I Have But One Heart’ is the song Johnny Fonatine croons to Connie Corleone at the wedding reception in The Godfather.


    harkin (75fedf)

  3. Fontaine

    harkin (75fedf)

  4. Terrific post JVW, thank you. Mr. Damone, RIP.

    Ipso Fatso (7e1c8e)

  5. “On the Street Where You Live” is a wonderful classic. RIP.

    Colonel Haiku (1d71cc)

  6. In the late 70’s I was living in San Francisco and dating a girl who lived on a street that had a lot of panhandlers and crazy people. I was working in my office on a Saturday afternoon and On the Street Where You Live came on the radio. I sang along and thought it was hilariously funny.

    Charlie Davis (e0d495)

  7. Wasn’t it Sinatra who said Damone had ‘the best pipes in the business’… and at the end it is respiratory failure that got him. Sad the music from the likes of Damone and his contemporaries is associated today by younger generations as the soundtrack for mob movies.

    All the more to treasure the recordings — and the last left w/us– the great Tony Bennett.

    Arrivederci Vic Damone. RIP.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  8. Unless I missed it, ‘I Have But One Heart’ is the song Johnny Fonatine croons to Connie Corleone at the wedding reception in The Godfather.

    Yep. Most of the Italian singers ended up recording it at some point. Frank, Dino, Jerry Vale, Al Martino — it was an important standard. I like Vic Damone’s version best.

    JVW (42615e)

  9. “On the Street Where You Live” is indeed a great song. It was under consideration as “Best Song of the 20th Century” in a New York Times determination nineteen years ago, but ended up losing out because the Times felt that the song veered too close to celebrating stalking. Seriously.

    JVW (42615e)

  10. Perry, Damone’s son with Pier Angeli, was raised in Italy by his mother. He couldn’t speak English when he came to the US to join his father. However, he quickly learned the language by listening to the radio.

    That experience hepled shape his future. He became a longtime radio host in Arizona. And, it was his love of American football that made him the Voice of the Cardinals after the team moved to Arizona.

    ropelight (f4ce4a)

  11. Awesome, ropelight. I didn’t know that.

    JVW (42615e)

  12. Sorry for your loss, JVW. And admire your taste.

    mg (dc3876)

  13. With a mango juice in hand I toast Mr. Damone.

    mg (dc3876)

  14. MIAMI – Vic Damone, whose mellow baritone as soon as earned reward from Frank Sinatra as “the best pipes in the business,” has died in Florida at the age of 89, his daughter stated. Victoria Damone informed The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday that her father died Sunday at a Miami Beach sanatorium from headaches of a breathing sickness. Damone’s easy-listening romantic ballads introduced him million-selling data and sustained a half-century occupation in recordings, motion pictures and nightclub, live performance and tv appearances. After successful a tie at the radio display Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Hunt, Damone’s occupation started mountaineering.

    ihinegosa (55c527)

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