Big Band Baritone Vic Damone Passes

To his fans, he was as much at ease with a gold club in his hands as a microphone.  Vocalist and golf enthusiast Vic Damone sang with the greats (Sinatra, Como and Martin) and played golf with the greats (Hogan, Snead and Demaret). His smooth baritone earned praise from Frank Sinatra. Vic Damone died in Florida at a Miami Beach hospital from complications of a respiratory illness. He was 89.

Born Vito Farinola in Brooklyn, New York, immigrants from Italy, Damone dropped out of high school after his father (an electrician) was injured on the job and the younger Damone began singing to support his family. While working as an usher at the Paramount Theater in New York, Vic caught and early show business break. The 14-year-old usher bumped into Perry Como in a theater elevator, and started singing. He then he asked Como whether he should continue voice lessons, and Como said simply, “Keep singing!” Perry Como later introduced the budding vocalist to a local bandleader, where Damone got his first “real job” as a singer.

Vic’s career began to really take off in the 1940s after he won a talent contest on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Hunt” radio program. Once he signed a contract with Mercury Records, Vic produced a number of hit singles including “Again,” ”You’re Breaking My Heart,” ”My Heart Cries for You,” ”On the Street Where You Live” and the title song of the 1957 Cary Grant film “An Affair to Remember.”

Damone’s romantic ballads and smooth, confident singing style brought him multiple million-selling records and helped to sustain his career in music, film, concert and television appearances for over half a century.

Vic Damone appeared in several movie musicals and he was originally cast in the role of Johnny Fontane in “The Godfather,” but the role of a budding singer eventually went to Al Martino.

Frank Sinatra, already a major talent, once said Damone had “the best pipes in the business.” “I tried to mimic him,” Damone once admitted in an interview. “I decided that if I could sound like Frank, maybe I had a chance. I copied his breathing technique (which Sinatra learned from watching Trombonist Tommy Dorsey), and copied his interpretation, reaching for the high notes with synergy.” Far from resenting Damone’s mimicry, Sinatra praised the singer’s vocal ability.

Vic’s relaxed style as a night club performer remained constant through the decades and made him an audience favorite. He let the music speak for its self, concentrating on melody and lyrics without succumbing to the gimmicks that many of his peers of the time resorted to.

In 1954, Damone married the Italian actress Pier Angeli, after her mother refused to allow her to marry James Dean. The couple had a son before divorcing in 1959. His marriage to actress Judy Rawlins, (with whom he had three daughters) and socialite Becky Ann Jones also ended in divorce. In 1987, Damone and actress-singer Diahann Carroll married after a long romance, and they performed together in night club and concert tours. They divorced in 1996.

Vic Damone, along with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Dean Martin and Jerry Vale, comprised a group of Italian Americans who dominated the post-world war two popular music arena. Damone still drew huge crowds at concerts and in nightclubs well into his 70s. Respiratory illness would prompt his eventual retirement to Palm Beach, Florida.

Damone is survived by two sisters, his three daughters and six grandchildren.