Eydie Gormé: Singer who formed a formidable pop partnership with her husband, Steve Lawrence

 

In the UK, the husband and wife team of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé are best known for a succession of pop hits during the late 1950s and early 60s – but for many years, they were among the leading lounge acts in America and did much to preserve what we now call the Great American Songbook.

Eydie Gormé was a superlative singer, able to sing pop novelties, Latin dance songs and the great standards with ease. In his autobiography, the noted composer Jerry Herman says that Gormé’s “If He Walked Into My Life” from Mame is “the finest single recording of any song of mine. Eydie Gormé is a brilliant song stylist and the way she did this song perfectly mirrored what I had in mind.”

Eydie Gormé was born Edith Gormezano in the Bronx in August 1928, the youngest of three children of a Jewish family. Her parents were of Spanish and Turkish ancestry and had met in Cincinnati; her cousin was Neil Sedaka. She sang and danced in school productions and worked for a theatrical supplies company after graduation.

For some years, she sang with an amateur band led by an old schoolfriend, Ken Greengrass, but she turned professional in 1952 when she joined Tommy Tucker’s band, followed by a year as the vocalist for Tex Beneke.

In 1953 Gormé auditioned for NBC’s Steve Allen Show, which became the Tonight show. She impressed them with her talent and the fact that she knew 2,000 songs. She was soon dating cast member Steve Lawrence (born Sidney Leibowitz) and they teamed up for songs and sketches. Performing live didn’t intimidate them and as Gormé recalled, “The beauty was, if you screwed up, that’s what people loved.” Lawrence sang three guest vocals with Gormé on her début album, Delight (1953).

In 1956 Gormé had a US hit with “Too Close for Comfort” from the musical Mr Wonderful, and followed it with “Mama, Teach Me to Dance”. When Jerry Lewis played the Palace on Broadway to establish himself as a solo star, he booked Gormé as his opening act. She stunned audiences with the torch ballad “Guess Who I Saw Today”, causing Lewis to remark, “Whatdya know, I came to Broadway and you stole the headlines.”

She had her first UK hit with “Love Me Forever” in 1957 and she sold well with the albums Eydie Gormé and Eydie Swings the Blues. She and Lawrence developed a night club act which incorporated solo spots, comedy songs and lively banter; they married in December 1957 while working in Las Vegas.

In 1958 they had their own TV series, The Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gormé Show, but Lawrence was seven years younger than Gormé and their career stalled when he was conscripted. Gormé continued alone, notably with the albums Eydie Gormé Vamps the Roaring 20s and Eydie in Love.

While British acts were noted for recording cover versions of US hits, the Lawrences were unusual in spotting British hits they could record for the American market. Gormé had US successes with “You Need Hands” and “Gotta Have Rain”, which had both been written and recorded by Max Bygraves, while Lawrence took the sales from Matt Monro on “Portrait of My Love”.

In 1961 the golden couple came to London for a short season at the Pigalle. The Musicians’ Union boycotted their appearance as they had brought their own trumpeter and drummer, thereby depriving British musicians of work. They argued that British musicians reading the scores would not pick up on the spontaneity of their act and they were allowed to continue.

In 1962 Gormé had a UK Top 10 success with a lively revival of “Yes, My Darling Daughter”, followed in 1963 by “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” and a big-selling album of the same name. “I Want to Stay Here”, written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, was their biggest UK success, reaching No 3.

The British Invasion knocked many established acts off the charts, but Lawrence and Gormé handled the setback well. Lawrence starred on Broadway in What Makes Sammy Run? while, following the success of a Spanish “Blame It on the Bossa Nova”, Gormé recorded Latin albums with Trio Los Panchos. Her biggest-ever international hit was with her Spanish version of “Amor”. Gormé and Lawrence spent 1968 on Broadway in the musical Golden Rainbow, written for them by Walter Marks.

During the 1970s they won acclaim for TV specials devoted to the great songwriters George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. They supported Frank Sinatra on his 75th birthday tour and they recorded “Where Or When” on his million-selling Duets II (1994) where they weave effortlessly together like Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. In cabaret, the duo performed the delightful “Sinatra from A to Z” where they sang extracts from 26 songs in three minutes – admittedly taking liberties with the alphabet.

In 1990 they released the album Alone Together on their own GL label, and in 1997 they recorded a lounge version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” for the album, Lounge-A-Palooza. Gormé retired from performing in 2009.

Their first son, David, was born in 1960 and Michael came two years later. They took their children on the road, tutoring them themselves. Michael died from a heart condition in 1986; David is a film composer and orchestrator, noted for the American Pie film series.

Edith Gormezano (Eydie Gormé), singer; born 16 August 1928; married 1957 Steve Lawrence (two sons); died Las Vegas 10 August 2013.

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