Remembering Eydie Gorme, A Vegas Singer Without The Drama

Dec 29, 2013
Originally published on December 31, 2013 9:52 am

Before turning the page on 2013, All Things Considered wanted to tell you stories you haven't heard — unknown stories about people you've heard of, and unknown people who have affected your lives in ways you can't imagine.

Eydie Gorme was most famous for being half of the husband-and-wife singing duo Steve and Eydie, with her husband of nearly 60 years, Steve Lawrence. They were regulars on television and performed consistently in Las Vegas and on concert stages (touring with Sinatra) for half a century.

In August, Gorme passed away in Las Vegas. She was 84.

If you say you're a Sinatra fan, or an Ella fan, it can give you a little street credibility for your "refined taste." If you're a fan of Streisand, you chalk it up as a guilty pleasure.

But if you say you're a fan of Gorme, if it doesn't get you a blank stare, it will get you a quizzical look. Because Gorme was not cool. She didn't even try.

Edith Gormezano was born in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1928. Her father was Italian, her mother Turkish; both were Sephardic Jews. In the home, they spoke Ladino, a variant of Old Spanish. This fluency would eventually extend her reach far beyond Las Vegas and nightclub showrooms, deep into Latin America.

Gorme really got her start on television, and her big break was on The Tonight Show. She met her husband on the show, launching one of the most enduring and successful married-couple acts in show business history.

Lawrence and Gorme married in 1957 in Las Vegas. But by the time they had climbed their way into the show business establishment, that establishment crumbled. Rock was taking control of the airwaves and the culture. It didn't matter as much for Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, they'd gotten in long before the door closed. Steve and Eydie did not.

"Eydie Gorme certainly deserves respect. She's one of the greatest interpreters of the American songbook," says Will Friedwald, a jazz critic and author of the book Jazz Singing. "If there is a 'not' on her voice it's that it's not the most distinctive sound."

But then Friedwald says distinctiveness isn't everything, and that "some of the most distinctive singers are terrible."

What Gorme had was the ability to bring emotional complexity to songs. Friedwald says that the emotion was always there, even when Gorme was using her loudest belting voice. That's a skill Friedwald says is not evident in generations that followed her.

"It's a big, rich, beautiful [and] deep voice that has phenomenal tonal range, but emotional range as well," he says.

In this age of irony and cynicism, Eydie Gorme may seem old fashioned. In the age of the Internet, Gorme is television. With her decades-long marriage, she never gave us the drama or tabloid fodder or tragedy of other great singers like Billie Holiday or Judy Garland.

When you watch Gorme lean into an emotionally charged performance, soul bared, singing about a love she never really lost, you realize that Gorme was classy, sophisticated, funny and show-stoppingly talented.

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And we'll wrap up our remembrances with Emmy and Grammy Award-winning singer Eydie Gorme. She died this summer at the age of 84. Gorme was half of the married singing duo known as Steve and Eydie. And as NPR's Sonari Glinton tells us, her talent was undeniable. Her style, well, Sonari will tell you.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Eydie Gorme was not cool. Now, don't get me wrong. She often operated adjacent to cool touring with Frank Sinatra, palling with Sammy Davis, Jr. Those guys, cool. Eydie Gorme didn't even try.


EYDIE GORME: (Singing) Blame it on the bossa nova with its magic spell.

GLINTON: That was Gorme's first chart-topping hit, "Blame it on the Bossa Nova."


GORME: (Singing) ...that he did so well.

GLINTON: Edith Gormezano was born in the Bronx in 1928 to an Italian father and a Turkish mother. Both were Sephardic Jews and spoke Ladino, a variant of old Spanish. Gorme's fluency in Spanish helped bring her fame in Latin America beginning with her performances with the group Trios Los Ponchos.


GLINTON: Gorme met her husband Steve Lawrence on the set of "The Tonight Show with Steve Allen" in 1953. While virtually inseparable, Gorme maintained a solo career.

WILL FRIEDWALD: I mean, it's a big beautiful rich deep voice.

GLINTON: Will Friedwald is a jazz critic with The Wall Street Journal, and he's author of the book "Jazz Singing."

FRIEDWALD: The voice itself is not as completely unique as, I don't know, Barbra Streisand and yet, you know, I can always tell Barbra Streisand within 30 milliseconds but I would much, much, much rather listen to Eydie Gorme. She was a much greater interpreter, had a much more - I think a more beautiful sound, if a less distinctive sound, and a much more personal approach.


GORME: (Singing) Was I soft or was I tough. Did I give enough? Did I give too much?

GLINTON: By the late '60s, rock was cool. And right as Steve and Eydie were becoming a part of the show business establishment, that establishment crumbled. But Friedwald says Gorme's standards never wavered. And few people can sing as loud and with this much emotion.

FRIEDWALD: Oh, the emotional thing was always there. You know, she always could get inside a song and make you feel it, you know, from the inside out. That was - even if it was something as silly as "Blame it on the Bossa Nova" or something as epically moving as "If He Walked Into My Life."


GORME: (Singing) Would I be there when he called, if he walked into my life today?

GLINTON: Classy, sophisticated, funny, attractive, show-stoppingly talented but not cool. Eydie Gorme was not cool at all.


GORME: (Singing) That I've run dry of? What would I give if my old know-how...

GLINTON: Sonari Glinton, NPR News.


GORME: (Singing) What did I have I don't have? What did...

RATH: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.