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- 1925-12-08 - 1990-05-16
Sammy Davis Jr. was an American actor, singer, and dancer. He also had several comedic routines and was noted for his impressions of other celebrities. Born to and raised by vaudevillian parents, Davis learned to act, sing, and dance at a young age. He toured with his father for much of his childhood and performed as part of the Will Mastin Trio until World War II. During the war he belonged to an integrated entertainment unit. After the war he returned to performing with the Will Mastin Trio, and recorded blues albums for Capitol. In 1954 he performed the title song for the film "Six Bridges to Cross"; two years later he starred in the Broadway musical "Mr. Wonderful."
In 1959 Davis became a part of Frank Sinatra's "Rat Pack" and appeared in several movies as part of the group, such as 1960's "Ocean's 11". They performed regularly together in Las Vegas, where Davis had to deal with the effects of continued segregation. He continued to act and record through the 1960s and '70s.
Davis was in a car accident in 1954 in which he lost his left eye. He wore a glass eye for the rest of his life. He also converted to Judaism in 1961. Davis died from throat cancer at the age of 64.
- 1930s - 1940s
- 1940s - 1960s
- 1929-04-06 -
- 1920 - 1940s
- 1904-08-21 - 1984-04-26
William James "Count" Basie is one of America's best-known jazz musicians. He was a pianist, bandleader, and composer. As a teenager and young adult in the 1920s, Basie met and performed with a variety of recognized names in Harlem: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller, among others. In 1929 he joined up with Bennie Moten in Kansas City, acting as both pianist and co-arranger for the band. When Moten died in 1936, Basie formed his own band, largely from its former members. It was this core group that ended up improvising their way into one of Basie's early hits, "One O'Clock Jump," and brought them to the attention of record producers.
After an extended engagement in Chicago that allowed "Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm" to refine their sound, Basie moved the band back to Harlem. They played at the Woodside Hotel, the Roseland Ballroom, and eventually the Savoy. Although Basie hired arrangers for the band, the group often worked out their numbers in rehearsals and then performed the partially improvised pieces from memory. In 1939, the band did a cross-country tour and performed on the West Coast for the first time. Although World War II caused a lot of member turnover, Basie remained famous for keeping an enthusiastic band that played with infectious good cheer and featured a continuous string of talented jazz instrumentalists and singers. However, declining interest in swing and traditional big band sound led him to disband the group after the war ended.
But Basie continued to perform with other groups, and in 1952 he ended up reforming his group with new members, working strains of bebop, rhythm and blues, and early rock'n'roll into his arrangements and working as a more organized ensemble than he had previously. In 1958, Basie headed to Europe with the new band. Post-war Europe loved jazz and had already welcomed a number of American expatriates who were happy to perform with Basie's band. The 1960s were filled with tours, television appearances, and recording with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennett. Basie maintained the classic big band sound into the 1980s despite music trends and more changes in personnel. He died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 79. The band, led by former members, continues to record and perform today.
- 1918-06-08 - 1987-03-21
- 1924-04-07 - 2005-08-03
Nick Perito was an American composer, arranger, and band leader, and for 40 years the closest collaborator of singer Perry Como. Perito was nominated for a dozen Emmys, primarily for Como specials and televised presentations of the Kennedy Center Honors in the 1980s and early '90s. Perito joined Como in 1963 as the singer's long-running "The Perry Como Show" was ending, and stayed on as his music director and conductor for frequent television specials, tours and recording sessions. Perito also handled the music for television specials for Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. He played piano in recording sessions for Steve & Eydie and for Julius La Rosa, among others. For the big screen, Perito scored the 1968 comedy "Don't Just Stand There," starring Robert Wagner and Mary Tyler Moore.
He began playing the accordion at a young age and soon started performing at parties. He received a scholarship to the Lamont School of Music, studying at the University of Denver. Perito was drafted in 1943 and served as an Army medic in New York during World War II; he also played piano and did musical arrangements for the Army band. Perito remained in New York after World War II, entering the Juilliard School of Music and graduating from the college in 1949.
Perito returned to Denver in 1946 and worked at Denver's KOA with his own weekday radio program. After that, he went back to New York, where he worked as a songwriter, arranger, and accordion/piano session musician. Perito also had his own band that had a permanent spot at Jack Dempsey's Broadway Restaurant, owned by the boxer. His first association with Perry Como came through Como's arranger, Ray Charles, in the early 1950s. Como had recorded a novelty song, "Hoop-De-Doo", and Perito was hired to accompany him on accordion for television performances of the song. He also became the musical director of United Artists Records in 1961.
Perito's other credits include the Kennedy Center Honors, American Film Institute awards, The Don Knotts Variety Show, and the Andy Williams and Bing Crosby television specials. Perito wrote the music for the 1968 film, Don't Just Stand There! with Robert Wagner and Mary Tyler Moore. Perito was also an influential arranger of background music for Muzak in the late 1960s and early 70s. He became the musical director for Bob Hope in 1993 and worked with Hope's wife, Dolores, when she decided to pick up her singing career after 60 years. Perito, along with musicians Dick Grove and Allyn Ferguson, was a founder and partner of the Grove School of Music in Van Nuys, California; the school was accredited in 1979 but closed in 1991. His work earned Perito a dozen Emmy nominations a year before his death of pulmonary fibrosis at the age of 81 on August 3, 2005 in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, CA.