Fifty-some years in one business is quite an accomplishment. Fifty-some years with one record label is almost unheard of, but those are some of the facts you will find in the story of Jerry Vale. The New York-born crooner with strong Italian roots has many a story to tell from that long career and tell them he did, to his biographer, Richard Grudens in the book “Jerry Vale: A Singer’s Life” published in November, 2000.
The Early Years
Although his birthday is listed occasionally as July 8, 1932, the singer tells Grudens that he was born in 1930, in The Bronx to Louis and Fanny Vitaliano.
Little Genaro, nicknamed Sonny, listened to his mother singing as she cleaned house and sometimes joined in, as did his father. The family occupied one floor of a three-flat. The other two floors housed Vale’s aunts and the home was owned by his grandmother.
Vale of Tears
Vale has seen his share of problems. When he was five, his then-three year old brother was killed, running across a street. Vale tells Grudens that his mother became overprotective of him from that point on, and that she eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. One aunt and Vale’s grandmother would later die on board the cruise ship The Andrea Doria when she collided with the Stockholm in the crowded New York shipping lanes.
But Vale’s life is filled with triumphs, too – success in the recording studio, on the charts, in concert and in his long marriage to wife Rita and their two children. He also established long-lasting friendships with many of the greats like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Perry Como and baseball legends Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
Jerry’s Big Break
Vale began working in a barbershop around the age of 11, singing while he shined shoes. The barber liked the boy’s voice and sent him to a coach for lessons in voice and piano. Vale began peforming in musical productions in school. He soon won a singing contest at a local nightspot, the Club del Rio and this led to performances at other supper clubs in and around New York City.
One of these gigs paid off well. Guy Mitchell caught Vale’s act, Mitchell set Vale up making demo records. That’s how Mitch Miller heard Vale and signed him with Columbia in the early 50’s. He remained with the label thruout his career with recordings of his beautiful high-tenor voice selling consistently for the Legacy division in recent years.
The Hits Keep Coming…
Vale first hit the charts in 1953 with “You Can Never Give Me Back My Heart” and followed that up with “Two Purple Shadows”, “You Don’t Know Me” and “I Live Each Day”. Vale remained true to his Italian roots, recording “Innamorata (Sweetheart)” in 1956 and in 1962 he was able to persuade Miller to let him do an album of Italian songs. I Have But One Heart came out in August of that year, followed six months later by Arrivederci, Roma and The Language of Love in September of 1963. All three albums did well on the charts.
What’s Rock ’N Roll?
The late 50’s and early 60’s were times of change in American music, and many Pop singers struggled to stay on top, but Vale’s records continued to sell, landing him in the Top 40 album charts six times between 1963 and 1966. The hits included There Goes My Heart and It’s Magic and the single which became his signature song, “Al Di La”.
Vegas, TV and Carnegie Hall
Vale credits Sinatra with landing him his first job at a Las Vegas casino, The Sands, a two-week engagement that was extended to 22 weeks. It was the beginning of two beautiful relationships which would run for years – Vale and Sinatra and Vale and Vegas.
In the late 60’s, Vale did what many other singers of standards did… he began recording contemporary songs, like “Little Green Apples” and Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulder”. But if the albums recorded in the late 60’s and early 70’s didn’t do as well as his earlier efforts, that fact did little to diminish his popularity with crowds in Vegas and with television audiences. Vale appeared frequently on TV shows, particularly Ed Sullivan’
;s “The Toast of the Town”.
Vale also performed in concert halls, and at festivals across the country. His Standing Ovation album was recorded at Carnegie Hall.
Music, Music, Music…
And he continued to make records for Columbia.
The Vale Songbook is huge. Vale has recorded such classics as “Volare”, “Non Dimenticar” and “Pretend You Don’t See Her” as well as “Moonglow”, “More” and the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition “Promises, Promises” among many, many others. He has done tribute albums to Nat King Cole, Buddy Clark and Russ Colombo. And in recent years, Hollywood has dipped into Vale’s discography, featuring his recordings on movie soundtracks for GoodFellas, Casino, and the Eddie Murphy film The Klumps.
At last report, Vale and his wife Rita were living in the Palm Desert area of California. Vale has been a regular participant in the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Golf Tournament in Palm Springs and is said to be a die-hard fan of the New York Yankees.
While a search of the Web turns up tour dates as recent as 2002 and reports of Vale and family in the audience at a Don Rickles show in the spring of 2005, there are also reports that Vale suffered a stroke a few years ago and is no longer able to sing. Other, more recent reports say he has recovered, but is no longer performing. But Jerry Vale’s fans are fortunate – nearly all of his major albums have been released on CD. And the memories linger on.
Biographies of Jerry Vale may be found on several Websites including
Excerpts from his biography are located at:
BroadwayToVegas.com has some interesting stories about Vale, from May, 2001 which quotes from his biography, and a story about a little argument between Vale and Frank Sinatra, Jr. over one of Frank Sr.’s musical arrangments, from December, 1998, the year Frank Sr. died.
JerryVale.com is listed as the “Official” website, but a visit finds the Web home essentially abandoned.
Richard Grudens has written several other books about Easy Listening and Big Band singers and musicians, worth checking out, including The Italian Crooners Bedside Companion