Thursday, December 23, 2010

Steve & Eydie

They first met on The Tonight Show when it was hosted by Steve Allen. (His composition "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" would forever after be a staple of their concert performances.) He had already made a name for himself with the 1953 single "Party Doll".

His original name was Sidney Leibowitz. He was the son of a cantor and house painter. She was born Edith Gormezano, the daughter of a Sephardic Jewish immigrant parents, her father from Sicily and her mother from Turkey. Both Spanish and English were spoken at home.

Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme were married on almost the last day of 1957. At the start of their marriage Steve's music continued to chart well in the United States: "Pretty Blue Eyes" (#9 in 1959), "Footsteps" (#7 in 1960),"Portrait of My Love" (#9 in 1961) and--his biggest hit of all--"Go Away, Little Girl" (#1 in 1962). Eydie hit the pinnacle of her solo success the same year with her song "Blame It on the Bossa Nova".

They first appeared on stage as Steve & Eydie in October of 1960. The country was about to change in deeply significant ways soon afterwards, and the music industry too. Already they must have felt the shift with the emergence of rock and roll years earlier. (Steve made a stab at appealing to the younger set in 1958 with "Uh-Huh, Oh Yeah".) They set their course and never wavered: Steve & Eydie were traditional pop entertainers, singing standards and guaranteeing a husband-wife shtick wherever they performed.

Throughout the 1960s they recorded together and separately in prodigious fashion. Their albums were well-loved but didn't sell well. Eydie had some success with her Spanish-language albums. She even hit the mark with singles like "If He Walked into My Life" (Grammy for Best Female Vocal Performance in 1967) and "What Did I Have That I Don't Have". They had success on Broadway in 1968 in a show called Golden Rainbow (which spawned the hit "I've Gotta Be Me" for Sammy Davis, Jr.)

They made regular appearances on TV variety shows during this period. But at the end of the decade this format was drying up. The 1970s found them, like most of their peers, struggling to reach an audience.

It was during this period that they reached their greatest artistic achievement with TV specials and albums dedicated to great pop songwriters like George and Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Our Love Is Here to Stay: The Gershwin Years

In terms of radio play, they had long been blackballed by virtue of being associated with a dead style. In fact, they had to change their names to Parker and Penny to get airplay and chart with their last "hit", a song called "Hallelujah" in 1979.

They met with tragedy in 1986 when their 23-year old son died unexpectedly from a heart condition. (They were performing in Atlanta when it happened, and Frank Sinatra sent his private jet there to take them to New York to meet their other son.) After a year's hiatus they were back performing and reached their last peak of high visibility when they joined Frank Sinatra on his Diamond Jubilee World tour in 1990. Of them Sinatra once said, "Steve and Eydie represent all that is good about performers and the interpretation of a song."

I grew up listening to these two. I once saw them perform in the late 1980s at the Chicago Theater. Eydie had an incredible voice; Steve was more of standard-issue crooner, but he was funny. They're both still around, although Eydie no longer appears in public. Watching them on YouTube for this blog entry has been a deep pleasure.

Check out this 1967 TV appearance on the Hollywood Palace.

Also don't miss their tribute to the Gershwins.

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