Sunday, August 11, 2013

My thoughts on Eydie Gorme

Some celebrity deaths hit you much harder than others. Usually it’s because they’re major stars, cultural icons, and they represent a good period of your life. You’re mourning your own childhood or some beloved era as much as you’re mourning the person. Sinatra was a big deal. So was Johnny Unitas. And Johnny Carson.

And then there are those celebrities who were part of your life – you enjoyed and appreciated their work – but never gave them much thought. And when they pass and you’re surprisingly devastated.

That’s how it was for me and Eydie Gorme.

Now I understand that many of you may not even know who she was. Or maybe you’ve heard the name and were aware she was some kind of singer.

And many others, of a certain age, do know of her and her work and take with them a favorable impression.

For some reason this one really hit me hard.

She was a singer, very popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and a concert performer well into this century. She wasn’t Barbra and she wasn’t Judy so she never received that level of adoration, but boy could the lady sing. As a pop vocalist she could hold her own with anybody – including Streisand and Garland. She had a big voice, crystal clear enunciation (imagine, being able to make out the words), could belt with the best of them, but above all really sold the emotion of every song.

And the emotion was always genuine. She never became Liza With a C for cheese. She sang from the heart and you felt it.

Ironically, her one smash number one song was a trifle called “Blame It On The Bossa Nova”. That’s like the great Judy Dench, for all her magnificent work in the theater, being best known as M in James Bond movies.

And most of Eydie's TV performances were either live or on variety shows never to be aired again.

In 1957 she married fellow crooner, Steve Lawrence and for most of her career they performed as a duo. You’ve probably heard of Steve & Eydie. (And some of you may be saying: ”Oh, that’s where I know the name.”) I never personally saw them, but everyone who did said they were spectacular entertainers. I’m sure they were.

But there were many great performers. Why this one?

Maybe it’s because she was a Jewish girl from the Bronx. My parents had a friend who went to high school with her.  Every Jewish parent had a friend who went to high school with her.  Or was her neighbor.  Or they were in camp together.  There was something relatable about her. She could have been my aunt. Had she showed at family Thanksgivings she would have fit right in. I can’t imagine Barbra Streisand sitting at our Thanksgiving table. I can’t picture Barbra Streisand arriving with her homemade carrot compote. Aunt Eydie I could.

Yes, they were billed as Steve & Eydie, but they really were Leibowitz &Gormezano. Jews make it to the premier showrooms of Vegas!

But it was that hominess, that sense of being a person that, looking back, really struck me. I wasn’t just a fan… in a way I sort of rooted for her.

She always seemed underrated and I never could understand why. Listen to her sing and then compare her say to AMERICAN IDOL divas. Steve Lawrence, who is a terrific singer himself, always maintained he was never in her league. She was very special.

I’m sorry that I never got the chance to meet her. I’m sorry we never invited the Liebowitzs’ to Thanksgiving dinner. I really will miss Eydie Gorme – not because she symbolizes my youth or inspired me to go into music – but because her singing touched me, and I didn’t realize it until now but SHE touched me.

40 comments:

MikeAdamson said...

I remember seeing her as a kid on the Carol Burnett show. She was indeeed a fine singer.

Ed from SFV said...

Class tells. That goes for you too, Ken.

Jon J said...

Played at least four Steve and Eydie cuts each shift. A great loss.

Mister Charlie said...

Steve and Edyie were incredibly talented performers, their TV appearances in the 60s just blew away most anybody else with talent and energy, plus they seemed a cute couple. She was underrated, absolutely. Fickle business, this show.

Michael said...

She was a marvelous talent, as her husband has been--and if you want to see how good he was, watch some of the Carol Burnett episodes for his role in the skits. Ken truly did them justice here, as he always does.

But, Ken, there were plenty of Jews on Las Vegas stages before and after Steve!

Anonymous said...

"...that comes from a new movie...Olivuh." An authentic Brooklyn girl. Authenticity has staying power.

Anonymous said...

Well stated Ken, seems she showed up on every talk and variety show I watched in the 50s,60s and 70s. Great singer, great personality.

Jeffrey Mark said...

I remember numerous Steve and Eydie performances on Ed Sullivan in the '60s as I awaited to watch the latest rock groups to perform. Both my parents were big fans and saw them a number of times in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe through the years. They constantly played Steve and Eydie records in the house during those years. My mom related to Eydie as they kind of looked alike and both hailed from NYC. She will be missed - class acts become fewer and fewer as time goes on.

John said...

Ken, this is a very good post. I know EXACTLY the feelings you are trying to describe; it IS because in great part, we are facing our own mortality. Steve & Eydie never even heard of John Wells, but they meant a helluva lot to me.

RCP said...

'Sidney and Edith' probably wouldn't have drawn them in in Vegas - until people heard them sing.

Nicely done tribute, Ken. I was kind of surprised at how Eydie's death affected me, as I also haven't thought of her in quite a while - and then Karen Black, too.

Paul Duca said...

Even though they performed Brill Building material--"Bossa Nova", "Go Away Little Girl"--growing up they were people my parents listened to, or went to their shows...ultimately, thought, if Carol Burnett respected them, I could too.

normadesmond said...

yes, i agree.

i went thru the same anguish
when anne bancroft died.

Greg Hardison said...

Steve & Eydie represent pure class, style and talent, both professionally and personally. Keep Steve in your thoughts; he has just lost one of the true great loves of the two centuries.

Chris said...

In some strange way, I think it was her very accessibility that kept her from being a big star. She just seemed nice. Never felt that way about Babs or Liza. She was kind of like the friend you took for granted; she would always be there. And she was. Until she wasn't. Rumor has it they looked at her for "Funny Girl" but that she didn't have the acting chops for it, which, sadly, she proved with "Golden Rainbow." She sure could interpret a Broadway ballad, though. Look at "If He Walked Into My Life" or "What Did I Have That I Don't Have" for proof of that. On another site, someone said Leah Michele could learn a LOT from Ms. Eydie. True, true, true. I'm so glad we have all of her great recordings.

Phillip B said...

In the late 1990s lounge music made a mild comeback, and Steve and Eydie took advantage with this mind blowing version of "Black Hole Sun"

http://youtu.be/55rtXg0ZsLE

Pat Reeder said...

My wife, Laura Ainsworth, is a singer of standards and jazz, and she idolized Eydie Gorme. She says that unlike most singers, Eydie's voice was smooth from the bottom of her range to the top, with no "break" where it shifted gears. It gave her that incredibly smooth sound. Her late dad, Billy Ainsworth, also loved Steve & Eydie, and he was a perfectionist. He was playing sax with Tommy Dorsey behind Sinatra at age 17, and went on to back people like Ella Fitzgerald and be the group vocal session leader on great radio jingles in the '60s and '70s, so if a singer was weak in any way, he'd notice it.

Paul Duca said...

Ken...there wouldn't even BE a Vegas, if it weren't for that nice Jewish boy, Benjamin Siegal.

Eric said...

No one in my family went to high school with Eydie Gorme, but my father went to high school with Steve Lawrence!

Lorimartian said...

Nice post, Ken. I recently decided to de-clutter my vinyl record collection including the 45s that I haven't listened to in more than thirty years. I took them to Amoeba records where the guy took a few and gave me $18. He didn't take my Eydie Gorme single with "Dormi-Dormi-Dormi" on one side and "You Need Hands" on the other. I'm glad he didn't. I look forward to playing it when my turntable is restored to working order. RIP Eydie. You are unforgettable, and your many fans will miss you.

cadavra said...

I remember an SNL over 20 years ago in which "Steve and Eydie" were part of a sketch. That would never happen today, when most people under 40 have no idea who they are. As is so often the case, the great ones are seldom appreciated until they're gone.

Alan Duke said...

Lovely story Ken. I was fortunate enough to have seen Steve and Edyie perform in Atlantic City in the mid 80's as their guests. We went back stage to meet them after the show and found them to be unaffected, genuinely nice people. The kind of people you would want at your Thanksgiving Dinner.

Meryl said...

Ken
i grew up listening to Eydie Gorme because my dad, another sephardic jew from the Bronx, were in the same high school class. One time I even baked her Sephardic Cookies and handed them to her at a concert. I felt so sad last night when i read the news of her passing. I felt like i had lost a family member. She was an incredible singer who torch ballads touched me to my soul. Thank you for your beautiful honor

TheMemorium said...

May you rest in peace, Eydie Gorme. Thank you for your beautiful music. Your legacy will live on. Made a tribute memorial in your honor: http://www.thememorium.com/Memorials/eydie-gorme #EydieGorme #BlameItOnTheBossaNova #SteveLawrence #Music

Ellen said...

"Every Jewish parent had a friend who went to high school with her. Or was her neighbor. Or they were in camp together."

... And some Jews' grandmothers lived in the same apartment building on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx as Eydie's mother. Or one, anyway.

Great post, Ken. I love it. Thanks.

Michael E. (not a robot, really) said...

What a lovely tribute. I feel much the same as you -- don't know why, but "Steve and Eydie" were just always there, even if I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to them.

I was a kid when "Bossa Nova" became a hit, but it's really stayed with me all these years, though again I don't know exactly why. Maybe it just seemed like a better time despite CONELRAD tests, Duck and Cover nuclear bomb drills, etc.

And maybe I'm just old and would like to remember my youth.

RIP, Eydie.

VincentS said...

Great tribute, Ken. I grew up with her and Steve Lawrence, too. A great loss.

Mike Barer said...

My Dad took my wife and I to see Steve and Edyie at McCallum Hall in Palm Springs and it was a very enjoyable show.

McAlvie said...

Every time I read of another great voice passing it saddens me. The crooners of yore could really SING. They had/have a talent that doesn't rely on skimpy costumes and synthesizers. There are few big names today that can do what they did, capture an audience without gimmickery. I feel sad for myself, but more so for another generation that is growing up not knowing what real talent is.

Marc Flanagan said...

I too was affected very much by this news. Loved her voice and personality and Steve and Edye were a couple that felt like my glamours neighbors who lived around the corner. Jay Kogan would tell me stories about them so I felt like I had a personal connection. As a kid, watching Jack Paar, when Miss Gorme was on I knew Paar would make her sing, "Guess Who I Saw Today" and she would resist it and then give in and sing it right there on the couch to him and then break down half way through the tune, I saw this happen a few times. RIP Edye, blame it on the Bossa Nova of time.

chuckcd said...

Only thing I know about her is the Monty Python reference:
"Over the shoulder double Eydie Gorme"

Patrick said...

I saw Steve & Eydie as the middle act after Tom Dreesen in a show that headlined Sinatra. Sinatra was OK, about 160 years old at the time and reading his lyrics off gigantic TelePrompters I could clearly read from my perch in the rafters, and not in as good of voice as he had been when I saw him a few years before at Radio City.

But Steve & Eydie were sublime. You mention how crystal clear her voice was, and that's exactly what I remember of the show--pitch-perfect, with that beautiful bell-like resonance that only the greatest singers have. He was no slouch either, a baritone as smooth as caramel. And of course, the highlights of the show were their extraordinary duets, with harmony singing of astonishing accuracy.

My kids groan at me when I start saying so, but they just don't make singers like Eydie Gorme any more. Their loss.

John said...

A few comments re: SNL and Steve.
I think it is telling that he was in Blues Brothers. He was not a Soul/R&B/Blues singer. They tried to get a lot of SRBB singers, both well known and not so well known to populate that movie. His part could have easily gone to almost anyone, but they had HIM do it. A few possible (not mutually exclusive) reasons are 1) somebody liked him 2) somebody respected him musically enough 3) he was right for the part (although the manager wouldn't HAVE to be Jewish, it does fit a stereotype) 4) they thought he had the comedic timing to do it

I don't really remember them singing much, but I certainly remember him in the Blues Brothers.

I would also like to agree with the comments re:singers of old vs singers of the idol era. (Most of) the current singers cannot sing as well as (some of) the old guard, and almost none of them can entertain. Think of some of the best shows you have seen, and many of them are not for the music, they are for the entertainment value or atmosphere. Garth Brooks is supposed to put on a great show. Not be a great singer, put on a great show. See also Kiss, the Dead, Buffett, DMB, and 100 local bands that play the corner bar. Great show.

Mark said...

Here's the URL for "The Sinatra Group", the SNL skit featuring Steve and Edyie. It's very funny: http://www.hulu.com/watch/3531

Ken, you captured her perfectly. Beautiful voice, and seemingly accessible. She must have done something right: she and Steve were married forever by Hollywood standards.

nospintravel said...

I first met Eydie as she was rehearsing for her first record. She was in a small office singing her heart out.
Steve was the only one of my "friends" who called me after my divorce to see how i was handling things.
Eydie was wonderful; Steve was great; but together, they were extraordinary.
I miss her and them.

TonyO said...

Thank you, Ken, for this very touching post. I had the privilege of seeing Steve and Eydie at the Circle Star theatre (near San Francisco) some years ago and was just amazed at their talent and easiness together.

I, too, was shocked and inexplicably saddened at her loss.

My thoughts and prayers with her husband, Steve, and her family.

SANDY JORDAN said...

I was thrilled to meet and spend a little time with them several years ago.
Eydie was wo warm and gracious to us and so much fun to be around. Love her sense of humor. Also loved her singing so much, that my first teacher was Carlo Menotti just because he said he taught her.

Heymjo said...

Thank you for the wonderful tribute to Eydie -- and Steve! You took the words right out of my heart. I, too, felt devastated when Eydie died. I don't think a day has gone by when I haven't thought about her. I was fortunate enough to get to know Steve and Eydie; Eydie and I would sometimes correspond through e-mail (she always signed her mail "XOXO Eydie") and I was fortunate enough to spend some time with her and Steve after some of their concerts (I saw many. If they were performing in town, I was there!) . What always impressed me about them is that what you saw on stage, you got off stage. They were the same warm, loving people you witnessed on stage, even to the point of talking over one another! One of my fondest memories of Eydie was when she and Steve were at Caesar's Palace. She sang Irving Berlin's "You Can Have Him," a number she had recently recorded. As she sang the number, you could see from every movement of her body that she was really getting inside the song; it was as if she really lived it and she and the song were one. When she finished, she turned to her orchestra conductor and slapped him a high 5 because she knew she had done something special -- and the audience knew it to from the incredible ovation she got. It was one of those special, magic moments that I am so happy I was there to witness. She was an incredible talent, vastly underrated. I miss her so much, but at least I have her music to remind of the special moments I shared with her.
Mike O.

Davey said...

Not enough is mentioned about Edyie singing solo such as her Spanish albums with Los Panchos...Cuatro Vidas and Edyie Gorme canta en espanol! She had such a lovely warm soothing and DARE I say "sensual" voice! We miss you Edyie.

saddleshoe said...

She couldn't have done "Funny Girl," but she could have done "Hello Dolly." RIP Eydie Gorke

daniel lack said...

One thing that was not mentioned was the enormous success Steve and Eydie enjoyed throughout the '60s in the Catskill Mountains resorts, most notably on the huge stage of the Concord Hotel...every show they did was a complete sell out..they were so comfortable performing in front of a mostly jewish clientele which absolutely adored them, and they delivered everytime...the other thing I haven't seen mentioned, is their one and only rendition of Steve Allen's biggest hit, "This could be the start of something Big"..it really became their theme song/anthem..check it out on youtube..simply breathtaking...