Arranger, conductor and producer from Boston, Massachusetts, who started out as a guitarist in the orchestra pits of his hometown theatres and with the CBS Radio Orchestra.
In the ’40s, he emigrated to the Big Apple and started getting some session work, most famously on “Ghost Riders in the Sky” with Vaughn Monroe and fellow guitarist, Bucky Pizzarelli.
It was arranging that would capture his imagination, however, and he was solicited by EydieGorme and Steve Lawrence to write up some vocal charts for some of their recordings on the Coral label. This turned out to be a successful formula, and soon the three of them traded up to the ABC-Paramount label, where Don was given extra arrangement and production duties, scoring hits with Lloyd Price, like “Personality” and “Stagger Lee”.
He is also credited with discovering Paul Anka. The young singer-songwriter arrived in New York after winning a trip there and was so enamoured of the Big Apple that his father financed a return trip. He pitched his songs to Don, and before long ABC-Paramount signed Paul to a contract. In the summer of 1960, Paul Anka Sings His Big 15 reached the fourth spot on the Billboard pop chart. It included some of his biggest hits, like “Lonely Boy” and “Diana”.
In the meantime, Don continued to also have success as an instrumental artist, scoring platinum with his arrangement of “Never on Sunday”, and also fared well with “The Theme From ‘The Unforgiven'”. Frank Sinatra took notice of him and asked him to work as the arranger on Sinatra and Strings, released on the newly formed Reprise label in 1962. Hollywood Premiere! was released in the same year, and Don was approached by another jazz giant, Sarah Vaughan, to perform arranging duties on Snowbound.
Pretty soon, it made sense for Don to make the cross-country move from The Big Apple to Tinseltown, where he started Don Costa Productions International, launching the careers of Little Anthony & the Imperials and Trini Lopez. He also continued working for Sinatra , and they had a hit with “My Way”, which was penned by Don’s prodigee, Paul Anka.
Don was an extremely busy fellow in the mid-to-late ’60s. In 1966, he arranged the music for the TV movie, Alice Through the Looking Glass, orchestrated the title song in The Daydreamer, and released Days of Wine and Roses and 101 Strings Play Million Seller Hits of 1966. The following year, he worked on the films, The Ballad of Josie and Rough Night in Jericho, and released another album, Modern Delights. In 1968, he served as music director for the TV Special, Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing, released The Impossible Years, and worked on the film, Madigan. Don ended the decade by releasing The Don Costa Concept, orchestrating the music in Hello, Dolly!, and doing more television work on another Frank Sinatra special and Three’s a Crowd. His song “Because They’re Young” made the cut on Hollywood Rocks the Movies: The Early Years (1955-1970).
In 1973, he reunited with the Chairman of the Board on the TV special, Magnavox Presents Frank Sinatra. The next couple of years found Don in the TV studio again, composing music for Amy Prentiss. In 1976, he took part in another TV special, The Bell Telephone Jubilee. Two years later, he worked on the TV mini-series, Loose Change. He and Sinatra continued working together into the 1980s, when Don had a heart attack that necessitated a bypass operation.
He rebounded and signed up with MGM records, arranging and producing, and churning out a couple of hit covers, “My Guy”, recorded by Petula Clark, and “Candy Man”, recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr. He collaborated with his daughter, who was all of ten at the time, on “Out Here on My Own”, which went platinum three times over. They were working on what might have been a follow-up hit when Don had another heart attack, and died.
Don Costa was dubbed “The Puccini of Pop” by Billy Byers for his lush, melodic arrangements. If you own a lot of pop albums from the 1960s, chances are that Don’s name is on at least one of them. He left his mark on releases such as Perry Como’s A Celebration in Song, Lloyd Price Sings His Big Ten, and Never on Sunday: Classic Movie Music of the 50’s & 60’s.
Frank Sinatra Recordings
That’s What God Looks Like To Me (Stan Irvin/Lan O’Kun)
Reprise RPS 49233 (XNY2101S) (US 45)
Theme from “New York, New York” (Fred Ebb/John Kander)
Reprise RPS49233 (XNY 2103 S) (US 45)
Here he is with his daughter Nikka performing “You”….