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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Eydie Gorme 1928-2013

"Eydie has been my partner on stage and in life for more than 55 years. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her and even more the first time I heard her sing. While my personal loss is unimaginable, the world has lost one of the greatest pop vocalists of all time."
                                                                                                     - Steve Lawrence 

Whether as a solo act, or together with her husband Steve Lawrence as the unforgettable duo of "Steve and Eydie", there is little doubt that Eydie Gorme was one of the most admired and imitated female pop vocalists of the past 60 years. Fans young and old mourned her passing in Las Vegas on August 10, just shy of her 85th birthday. And although she officially retired in 2009, her haunting music and full, rich voice will always live on. During an era in which pop music became something vastly different than what it was when she first broke into it, she maintained her class, dignity and integrity above all.

Born Edith Garmezano in the Bronx to Sephardic Jewish parents of Sicilian and Turkish origins in 1928, she would later transform her name as so many entertainers did in those days. She spoke fluent Spanish at home, and this would later serve her both in her early career as a United Nations translator, and later as a musician, when she would record a string of Latin-themed albums.

Right out of high school, she was already singing in an orchestra during these, the waning years of the Big Band craze. One of these groups, the Tommy Tucker Orchestra, would employ her as a vocalist in 1950 for her very first recordings--made when she was only 22. After a time spent as the singer for the band of former Glenn Miller tenor saxophonist Tex Beneke, she struck out solo in 1952, during a period when the solo vocalist was rapidly replacing the band as the preferred form of pop music.

She made her first TV appearance in 1953 on the original Tonight Show, hosted by Steve Allen. On that fateful day, she would meet her future husband and lifelong musical partner, Steve Lawrence--a fellow guest booked for the same taping. They would be married in 1957, and by the following year, would be teamed up on their own TV show, which ironically enough, served as a summer replacement for Allen's Tonight Show.

By that point, Gorme was already an established act on her own, having nine singles on Billboard's Hot 100 pop chart to her credit. After the marriage and thanks to the TV exposure, the duo began performing together, and before long would also be recording together as well. They became fixtures on the Las Vegas scene--a situation that would last for decades to come--and close friends of Vegas' ultimate entertainer, Frank Sinatra.

However, by the early 1960s, the pop landscape was changing, and with rock and roll becoming the music of the moment, it started getting tougher for Gorme to remain a fixture on the pop charts--instead, the majority of her future hits would be on the so-called Easy Listening or Adult Contemporary chart. However, not before she'd have her biggest pop hit of all, the infectious "Blame It on the Bossa Nova". Her only top 10 hit, it went platinum for her in 1963, mere months before the Beatles arrived and took over.

All told, Eydie, both on her own and with Steve, would land 27 singles on the AC chart during the 1960s and 1970s, and would rise to become one of music's most respected voices and forces. She won a Best Female Vocal Performance Grammy in 1967 for "If He Walked Into My Life". The "Steve and Eydie" stage act flourished, and the two became iconic for their on-stage banter and the real life affection that showed through in their appearances. In one final nod to Steve Allen, perhaps the tune most associated with the couple would be Allen's composition "This Could Be the Start of Something". They became a favorite of the older set, an aging listenership that found itself more and more alienated by the music industry's pursuit of the youth market.

Through it all, Gorme maintained a flourishing solo career, highlighted in the '60s by a series of Spanish albums she recorded with the group Trio Los Panchos. In fact, this period would introduce her to a whole new audience that would continue to hold her talents in high regard for years to come. 

Following the 1970s, Eydie and her husband chose to focus mainly on their live appearances, catering to the audience that already knew and loved them. In 1986, they were struck with tragedy when their son Michael died of a freak heart attack at age 23. After being flown out of Vegas on Sinatra's private plane to be with their family, the couple took a year off from performing in order to mourn.

Eydie Gorme continued to proudly perform into her 80s, but finally stepped away from the stage in 2009, leaving her husband to continue on his own. It's suspected that the undisclosed illness which caused her death may have been the reason. She died in Las Vegas' Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, with her lifelong love Steve at her side, along with their surviving son David and their one granddaughter.

Whether it's her famous hits, her Spanish recordings, her duets with Steve, or classic albums like 1965's definitive Don't Go to Strangers, Eydie Gorme left the world with an impressive and sometimes slightly underrated body of beautiful work. "Steve and Eydie" will forever be a touchstone of a particular generation--and although half of that touchstone is now commended to musical history, that history is made all the more decorated for it.

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