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Perry Como, singer of popular songs, has been billed as "King of the Jukes" as a result of the widespread sale of his recordings. The baritone left his trade as a barber to become, first, a vocalist with a band and, later, a solo singer who is rated high in the popularity polls. The inspiration for a number of fan clubs, Como is heard not only through records, but also on the "Supper Club", a radio network program.
Newspaper accounts state that Pierino Como is the seventh (and last) son of a seventh son. The "middle" of thirteen children, he was born on May 18, 1912, to Pietro and Lucille Como in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. (Third Avenue, the street on which his family lived, has been renamed Perry Como Avenue.) His father, who had come with his wife to the United States from Italy, was a mill hand employed by the Standard Tinplate Corporation. By the time Perry was eleven he was working after school in a barbershop; three years later he was paying the installments on his own shop. His father, however, compelled him to suspend this venture until he had completed high school in 1929. The year 1933 had established Como for five years in Canonsburg as a barber. Accepting the challenge of a friend, that summer he successfully auditioned for Freddie Carlone's Orchestra. As a vocalist with that band he traveled through the Midwest for three years, achieving some popularity. In 1936 Ted Weems heard the young baritone and signed him to appear with his orchestra. When Weems entered the armed forces in December 1942, the orchestra dispersed.
After five years of barnstorming, Como decided to return to his hometown to reopen his barbershop. (By this time he was married and had a child.) Before he had time to resume his business, the General Amusement Corporation, a musical promotion firm, offered him an opportunity to appear on a sustaining Columbia Broadcasting System radio show. Como accepted after receiving assurance that he would be able to live in one place (in this case, New York) for a length of time. Shortly afterward he was signed for a trial of two weeks at the Copacabana, a New York nightclub. At a time when another baritone, Frank Sinatra, was at the peak of his success, the newcomer to the New York entertainment world was hailed as a possible new star. Harriet Van Horne, New York "World-Telegram" radio critic, found him "darkly handsome, pleasantly wholesome, and mercifully unaffected. His voice is clear, full-throated baritone, and when he sings he appears to be suffering no pain at all. Not even that private exquisite pain that is peculiar to nightclub crooners." After eight weeks other nightclubs booked Como, including the Versailles, and at theatres, among which were the Paramount and the Strand. A year after Como's first nightclub appearance, Virginia Forbes, of the New York "Sun" , summed up the praise Como had received: "The Como voice is considered by many, including Rudy Vallee, dean of crooners, to be the best in the field of café serenaders at present." Three years after his Copacabana trial, Como was paid ten thousand dollars for two out-of-New York appearances, the "highest guarantee for a one-night stand."
In the summer of 1943 Como signed a contract to record his voice with RCA Victor — this association made him the idol of many "bobby-soxers." In August appeared his first Victor record release, "Goodbye Sue," and on the back, "There'll Soon Be a Rainbow." A year later he "waxed" "Lili Marlene" and "First Class Private Mary Brown" for Victor. Como's voice, which he himself classifies as "somewhere between a tenor and a light baritone" was often heard coming from the nation's juke boxes and over record-playing radio programs as the sales of his 1945 recording "If I Loved You" ("I'm Gonna Love that Gal" is on the reverse side) by the fall of 1946 had totaled two million. Perry Como was the first popular singer to reach the two million marks in sales on two releases at the same time. His Victor recording of "Till the End of Time" was the highest selling record of 1945; by February of 1946 three million pressings of the disc were sold. Other popular recordings were "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows", (this also sold over a million), "I Dream of You", "I'm Confessin' ", "You Won't Be Satisfied", "I'll Always Be With You", and "Temptation." After signing a new five-year contract with Victor (Variety has called the singer "Victor's star salesman"), Como recorded "Sonata", "That's the Beginning of the End", "Surrender", "Rumours are Flying," and "Forget-Me-Nots In Your Eyes." Variety has regarded Como as the "maker of songs," a title given him for his success in reviving two songs, "If You Were the Only Girl in the World" and "Prisoner of Love," after other attempts had failed. Como has also introduced "Let's Plan a Life Together."
Within a year after his first appearance on the CBS radio show, Como was signed by Chesterfield Cigarettes to appear on their new program "Supper Club" (December 1944). Como sang three nights a week, while Jo Stafford, a girl vocalist, appeared on the remaining two nights of the five-evenings-a-week National Broadcasting Company program. Of his first performance on "Supper Club" Variety wrote, "As a steady fare on the dial he's likely to prove that he's big stuff. His voice and delivery have taken on a new warmth and personality." Como has also made guest appearances on other radio shows.
In August 1943 Como was signed by Twentieth Century-Fox to a seven-year motion picture contract (from which he was released in 1948 at his own request). Featured in "Something for the Boys," Como exhibited "some of the best singing of the pleasant score," in the opinion of Eileen Creelman (New York "Sun"). As a result of his appearance in "Doll Face," the baritone emerged as "a pleasant addition to the Hollywood crooners." The singer reached full stardom in "If I'm Lucky," in which he was "more pleasant as an actor than most of the other droners." New York Post Magazine's Cecilia Ager noted that "this is not the best picture radio-capitulated Como is going to make, but it serves to show that he has something for the movies too." With the competition of Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Dick Haymes, Como holds a high place in popularity polls. In Billboard's first annual music-record poll (1946) Como's recording of "Prisoner of Love" proved to have made the most sales in that year and Como himself was voted the "top selling" male singer. At the end of 1946 he held third place in a "Down Beat" poll, coming after Sinatra and Crosby. He was also third in Billboard's 1945 GI poll of favorites among male singers.
Como is one of the founders of the Hospitalized Veterans National Radio Foundation. He was married to Roselle Belline in 1933 and has one son, Ronald, who, in 1947, was attending a Catholic parochial school. The singer dresses "like a husky college freshman," observed Sidney Fields in the New York Daily "Mirror" , "and looks like one." (Como's name appeared in a listing of America's ten-best-dressed men.) Black-haired and black-eyed, Como is "short, on the stocky side, and gives the impression of being shy." In describing his leisure-time activity, Variety once remarked that Como "would rather golf than sing."References: Collier's 118:59 ~ June 21, 1947 portrait Look Magazine 8:78 ~ November 28, 1944 portrait New York Daily Mirror p16 ~ October 4, 1946 portrait New York Post Magazine p37 ~ February 14, 1946 portrait New York Sunday News p8 ~ October 27, 1946 portrait Newsweek Magazine 26:69 ~ March 23, 1947 portrait This Week p29 ~ March 23, 1947 portrait Time Magazine 47:49 ~ March 18, 1946 portrait Variety Radio Directory 1939-40
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