Jerry Vale: Crooner of the 1950s and ’60s who became adored in the US for his renditions of classic Italian ballads


Jerry Vale was a crooner of the 1950s and ’60s beloved for his swelling renditions of romantic ballads, many of them Italian in language but universal in theme.

 He grew up in an Italian American community in the Bronx and became one of the most popular artists in the US. His most noted hits included “You Don’t Know Me” (1956), a country song of unrequited love, that sold more than a million copies.

His other numbers included “Two Purple Shadows,” “Have You Looked Into Your Heart,” and albums full of crowd-pleasing Italian standards such as “Al Di Là,” “Innamorata,” “Volare,” “Amore, Scusami,” “Ciao, Ciao, Bambina,” “Arrivederci, Roma” and “O Sole Mio.” For years he was a mainstay of Columbia Records and in 1964, was the third best-selling male singer after Tony Bennett and Andy Williams. In later decades, he continued to perform in clubs around the US, his audiences and continued record sales a testament to the enduring appeal of his music.

Vale counted Frank Sinatra among his friends and traced his musical lineage to Perry Como and Bing Crosby. His serenades were compared to those of a Venetian gondolier, and he endeavoured to preserve his genre’s lush and pleasing style particularly as rock’n’roll commanded increasingly larger audiences. To fit in, he said, he would occasionally add a fast piece to his set – “But I don’t like it,” he said. “I don’t like it one bit.”

He was often on television programmes such as The Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and at venues ranging from the Copacabana night club to Carnegie Hall.

In his youth he shined shoes and swept floors in a barber shop where he fetched extra tips by singing. By his teenage years he was performing in supper clubs.

He left school for a job in a factory and later worked with his father, an engineer, on the excavation of sewage plants. Meanwhile, he continued to perform. He was appearing at a club in the early 1950s when he caught the attention of the singer Guy Mitchell, who introduced him to Mitch Miller, an influential executive at Columbia Records.

Vale’s music was featured on soundtracks including Martin Scorsese’s classic Mob films, Goodfellas and Casino; he made cameo appearances in both.

Genaro Louis Vitaliano (Jerry Vale), singer born New York 8 July 1930; married 1959 Rita Grapel (one daughter, one son); died Palm Desert, California 18 May 2014.

© The Washington Post