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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Vic Damone--An appreciation

Vic Damone's "You're Breaking My Heart"

Vic Damone, who died Sunday at 89, isn’t as famous today as other Italian-American traditional pop vocalists of his heyday. But he had substantial hits like “You’re Breaking My Heart” (which topped the charts in 1949), My Fair Lady’s “On the Street Where You Live” (No. 4 n 1956) and “My Heart Cries for You” (also No. 4, in 1950).

Thanks to those and other hits, a 1960s TV presence that included his own NBC variety show The Lively Ones, and industry honors like the first Legend Award from the Society for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook and the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award, Damone is fondly and respectfully remembered.

“Before Dean Martin or Al Martino charted their first hits, Vic Damone was already putting Italian-American crooners on the map,” says music historian John Alexander. “His first Top 10 single ‘I Have But One Heart’ [Damone’s first release, which was adapted from the traditional Neapolitan song ‘O Marenariello’ and famously performed by Martino in The Godfather, reached No. 7 in 1947] was sung in English and Italian. And Brooklyn-born Damone’s biggest hit, ‘You're Breaking My Heart’ was based on the Italian song ‘Mattinata.’ He loved Frank Sinatra, but he never embraced the ‘wise guy’ persona. He was a gentleman through and through.”

Author of the forthcoming Johnny Cash—The Man in Song, Alexander notes how “people may not know that Johnny Cash was a big fan of Vic Damone.”

“In one of his letters to [wife] Vivian while he was in the service, Johnny told her how excited he was to meet Damone, who was in the army at the same time he was,” says Alexander, who for many years assembled multi-disc genre compilations at Reader’s Digest Music.

“He recorded exclusive songs for Reader’s Digest in the ’90s, and we made good use of them. He was extremely popular with our audience. He was one of the last of the crooners standing, and he certainly will be missed.”

Fellow music historian Mike Sigman, as the son of Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Carl Sigman (credits including such standards as “It’s All In the Game” and “Ebb Tide”), offers a more personal take.

“The No. 1 record in the America in early 1953 was ‘Ebb Tide,’ a tune written by composer/harpist Robert Maxwell and recorded by Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra,” says Sigman. “Carl added lyrics, and Vic Damone became the first ‘Ebb Tide’ vocalist to hit the Top 10. I was just four, but I’ll never forget that when it came on the radio, mom would yell, ‘Plug!’—because the DJ was plugging the song. And I’d yell back, ‘Victor Moan is a hit!’”



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