He was a singer-songwriter, composer, author, actor, drummer and arranger born in Chicago, Illinois, and nicknamed “The Velvet Fog” by the DJ Fred Robbins.
Known to be a child prodigy he began his professional singing career when he was 4 years old when he performed with the Coon-Sanders Orchestra. By the time he was 8 he had started acting in radio serials, by the time he was thirteen he had written his first song, in his early teens he was a drummer in the drum and bugle corps at his elementary school in Chicago and later in Chico Marx’s band, as well as a close friend of Gene Krupa, and by the time he was sixteen he had a song published which was made into a hit by Harry James.
Moving into movies, he appeared in the 1943 Higher and Higher with Frank Sinatra and Good News, in 1947, which gave him teen idol status.
After having been drafted into the US Army in 1944 he was released from service in 1945 after the discovery that he was flat-footed.
Taking influence from Frank Sinatra and his group The Piped Pipers, he formed Mel Torme and his Mel-Tones in 1944 and the quintet saw several hits.
He also ventured out on his solo singing career in 1947 and from that time on he would see success with many of his romantic and jazz influenced songs and recordings. His first and only No. 1 hit was “Careless Hands” in 1949, but his signature songs would be “Blue Moon” and “Again”.
As a composer his California Suite had the honour of being Capitol Records first 12″ LP release. Although continuing to record throughout the ’50s and ’60s and making seven albums with the Marty Paich Dektette, his popularity waned until jazz made a comeback in popularity and propelled him back into the limelight.
During 1976 and 1977 he would win an Edison Award, be named “Best Male Jazz Singer” by Downbeat and appear at Carnegie Hall with Gerry Mulligan and George Shearing, who he would later record several albums with and in 1982 and 1983 he was the recipient of two Grammy Awards for “Best Jazz Vocalist”.
Back on television he would appear on programmes ranging from comedy to science fiction as well as appearing in several commercials for the drink Mountain Dew.
Writing over 300 songs he will probably be best remembered for “The Christmas Song” which he collaborated on with Bob Wells and which Nat King Cole successfully recorded in 1946.
As an author he wrote five books including an autobiography named My Singing Teachers and the biographies of Buddy Rich and Judy Garland.
In 1996 he was struck down by a stroke and three years later, when he was 74, he would suffer another that would take his life.
In 1999 he was honoured with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Cincinnati Sinfonietta recordings
Telarc 83315 (CD: Christmas Songs)
Conductor – Keith Lockhart
Vocals – Mel Torme