Eydie Gorme was born Edith Gormezano on August 16, 1928, in the New York City borough of the Bronx, the youngest of three children born to Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Turkey. Her father, Nessim Gormezano, a tailor, and her mother, Fortune, met and were married in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the years following, her parents had two children, and the family relocated to the Bronx; it was there that Eydie was born and raised. Due to her family’s cultural background, she grew up speaking Ladino (a variant of Old Spanish), in addition to other languages. From an early age it was clear that she demonstrated great interest in music, and she made her singing debut at the tender age of three. While at a local department store Eydie quietly slipped away from her parents and took her place in line to sing on the local children’s radio program. Before anyone was completely aware, Eydie was toddling on the stage to make her singing debut.
Despite her academic pursuits, Eydie’s dream of becoming a singer lingered, and she soon became determined to make it a reality. The first important step toward her goal occurred when she united with bandleader Ken Greengrass. Greengrass, a fellow Taft graduate and bandleader, had always encouraged Eydie to continue singing, and she occasionally performed with his band on weekends. However, to further their careers, she and Greengrass would have to significantly adjust their lifestyles: Eydie decided to give up her job, devoting her time to her budding singing career, while Greengrass would disband his orchestra and become her full time manager.
Eydie’s first break occurred in 1950, when bandleader Tommy Tucker stumbled upon one of her demonstration records. She was called in to immediately audition, whereupon she was hired after singing only half of her numbers. With only two days to “buy clothes, pack, and learn twenty new songs,” Eydie arrived in Virginia Beach, commencing a two-month tour with Tucker’s band. As fate would have it, the last few performances were in New York – thus when Greengrass heard that Tex Beneke was in search of a lead vocalist, he was easily able to rush Eydie to the audition in Atlantic City.
“This was a very special night,” she later recalled. “It was August 16, my birthday. I just felt somehow this would be my lucky night.” Beneke asked her to sing four songs: “Betwitched,” “The Man I Love,” “Somebody Loves Me,” and “I’m in the Mood for Love.” She emerged from the audition as his new vocalist, and embarked on a one year tour with the band. However, with the Big Band era drawing to a close, Eydie made the conscious decision to pursue a solo career. In 1952, she was signed to Coral Records, with whom she would release a series of singles; her first was “That Night of Heaven.” She continued to take night club engagements as a solo artist, as well as make appearances on radio and television shows. During this time, she also made headway on the radio scene, hosting her own Voice of America program, “Cita con Eydie,” which was broadcast to Spanish-speaking countries around the world.
1953 would mark the most significant transformation in Eydie’s personal and professional life. Careerwise, Eydie’s big break came in September of that year when she auditioned for Steve Allen’s late-night talk show, Tonight! Its current female vocalist reportedly knew just five songs, and so a singer with more versatility and greater repertoire was necessary. Upon auditioning, Eydie recalls, “They asked me how many songs I knew, and I said 2,000. They took one look at me and weren’t so sure. They were looking for a blonde, someone who looked like Marilyn Monroe. And I was, well, me. With my bangs. They said they would give me two weeks.” And the Allen show did just that, hiring Eydie on a two-week basis, a practice that continued for her entire multi-year tenure at Tonight. Although hesitant to be tied down to a locally broadcast show, Eydie joined a cast of characters that would come to include such notables as the titular Allen, comedians Don Knotts and Louis Nye, and singers Andy Williams, Patricia Marshall, and Steve Lawrence, who would create, innovate, and influence the future of television. On September 27, 1954, Eydie’s rising star would reach new heights, as the program began to broadcast nationally on NBC. Eydie’s illustrious talents were no longer restricted to local audiences – her extraordinary voice was transmitted nationwide.
In October of 1960, Steve and Eydie launched their career as a husband-and-wife team, beginning with various joint engagements at Washington’s infamous Lotus Club. In doing so they not only joined the ranks of such dynamic man-and-wife duos as George Burns and Gracie Allen and the Lunts, but they became the youngest married entertainment team of their time. Their album, We Got Us, was released that year, and the title track won them the Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group, their first such award. Despite the new professional partnership with her husband, Eydie maintained a solo career, and in 1961 released her first Spanish/English album entitled, I Feel So Spanish. She had fought for the opportunity to record as a bilingual performer, an uncommon practice at the time, and the album allowed Eydie to demonstrate her renowned versatility, successfully shifting from one language to another with trademark ease.
In the midst of her professional success, her personal life changed dramatically as well, though not in so quick a fashion. It was on the Tonight show that she came to know and fall in love with her co-star and future husband, Steve Lawrence, just 18 during Eydie’s first season. The two had met briefly at New York’s famed Brill Building before becoming better acquainted on the Tonight show, where they initially sang as individual performers, but were soon paired together in duets and sketches. Their close proximity on- and backstage fostered a romance between the two, a development which Eydie now contends was a little more one-sided at its outset. “What ‘we fell in love?’ I fell in love,” she recalled in 2003. “These people — you get close to them. And I just fell madly in love with him.” It was during this time that Steve and Eydie released their first single together, “Make Yourself Comfortable.”
In February 1956, Eydie made her debut at New York’s esteemed Copacabana club. Although she was not scheduled to appear as the head-liner at the time, Billy Daniels was unable to perform that night. Eydie was rehearsing in the TV studio for the Steve Allen show when she received a call asking her to take his place. With less than an hour until curtain she rushed to the club, and without proper costume, make-up or rehearsal, Eydie made her debut. She triumphed that night and was subsequently booked to return as a headliner. Her star was on the ascent and by April, her second release for ABC, “Too Close for Comfort,” would mark her introduction to the Top 40 charts (her follow-up single, “Mama, Teach Me to Dance,” would also make it to the Top 40). In 1957 she had three more successful singles; “Love Me Forever” climbed highest on the charts. That same year she released her self-titled debut album, Eydie Gorme, and Eydie Swings the Blues; both ranked in the Top 20.
As if following the positive progress that her professional life was making, Eydie’s personal life reached a celebratory milestone when she married Steve in Las Vegas on December 29, 1957. Steve jetted to Mexico to film for the Tonight! Show almost immediately after their El Rancho Hotel wedding, while Eydie remained in the city to fulfill her performance contract, setting a harried pace of maintaining separate careers that would continue for the first few years of their marriage. In early 1958, changes were rapidly occurring once again, as Steve Allen launched a prime-time series and left the cast of Tonight; Eydie and Steve served as hosts in its summer replacement, “Steve Allen Presents the Steve Lawrence-Eydie Gorme Show”, in July and August of that year. In the interim, three more Eydie singles made the charts; the most popular single, “You Need Hands”, as well as her albums, Eydie Vamps the Roaring ’20s, and her September release Eydie In Love, reached the Top 20. A testament to her appeal, these albums were the only ABC releases to chart between 1957 and 1959.
Despite the success of the summer show and plans to continue with their own series later in the season, Steve and Eydie’s marriage would be tested by separation yet again in the fall of 1958, when Steve was called to fulfill his military commitment. Steve’s two year-army tour would undoubtedly alter the course of their individual careers. In January 1960, while Steve was still in the service, Eydie gave birth to her first child, David. The stress of having separate careers while trying to maintain a marriage and tend to her ever growing family, was a burden Eydie refused to bear. As she later recalled in 2003, “I felt we really couldn’t be separated that much. I’d had the baby, I was traveling and working alone…taking my baby with me every place, it was very difficult. I really was very depressed.” Family took precedence, giving Eydie two options: to quit show business completely to stay home and care for her children, or try to merge the distinct careers she and Steve had carefully fostered, so that they might work together and travel as a family. As Steve later acknowledged, “We started working together out of necessity.”
While attending William Howard Taft High School, one of the Bronx’s premiere public schools at the time, Eydie gained the admiration of her peers as the Taft Swing Band’s lead female vocalist. She also participated in her high school’s musicals and was co-captain of the cheerleading squad, even earning the title of the “peppiest, prettiest cheerleader.” Upon graduation in 1946, she thought it best to choose a practical career path, taking advantage of her Spanish fluency, she began to work as an interpreter for the Theatrical Supply Export Company; nights, she attended classes at City College of New York and studied international business. Her bi-lingual fluency also earned her brief training as a U.N. interpreter.
Her innate passion for music remained with her. As a result of her siblings’ failed attempts at piano and violin lessons, she never received any formal musical training during her youth, but her passion for song and her confidence in her ability were unstoppable forces that drove her to pursue her musical endeavors. The New York music scene had a great deal of influence over a girl growing up during the Big Band and Jazz age, and Eydie has long cited crooner Frank Sinatra as a strong influence on her own career. A self-proclaimed bobby-soxer in her youth, Eydie’s infatuation with Sinatra led the then-eleven-year-old to one of his most infamous concerts. “I was one of the girls who went to the Paramount in New York in bobby-sox,” she later recalled. “I skipped school to see him and completely freaked out!” Little did she know what the future would hold for her, as she later developed a lasting friendship and professional rapport with Sinatra.
The following year, in May 1962, the Lawrences’ second son, Michael, was born. That summer, Eydie’s solo career would get a boost with the release of her first single with Columbia Records, a revival of the 1940’s hit “Yes, My Darling Daughter,” which became a Top Ten hit in the U.K. However, it wasn’t until 1963 that her recording career was completely re-ignited with the release of “Blame it on the Bossa Nova.” The song reached the Top Ten on the Billboard charts, and she received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Vocal Performance of the Year. She would place four more singles on the charts in 1963, two of which were recorded with her husband. Their 45’s, “I Want to Stay Here” and “I Can’t Stop Talking About You,” reached the Top 40, as did Eydie’s solo album Blame It on The Bossa Nova.
In spite of her strained recording career, Eydie had bigger plans, as she and Steve were set to co-star as leads in a Broadway show. Their chosen vehicle, Golden Rainbow, was the musical adaptation of Arnold Schulman’s play A Hole in the Head, and the show garnered some of the greatest advance ticket sales the Shubert Theatre had ever experienced. The vibrant musical opened February 4, 1968, and closed within the year on January 12, 1969.
During the show’s run in 1968, Eydie would end her professional ties to Columbia Records, deciding instead to sign with RCA-Victor Records in hopes of rejuvenating her waning career. The following year she and Steve issued two albums, Real True Lovin’ and What It Was, Was Love, although the successes of those LPs was second to that of the release of her own single, “Tonight I’ll Say a Prayer,” which charted that fall. In February 1970, the label released an album with the same title.
Despite Eydie’s allegiance to the American Standard style of song which had early solidified her career , the 1970s ushered in a new era of music. The British invasion had forever changed the industry, and the emerging Rock era offered little relief to the traditional singers of yesteryear. Eydie remained with RCA until 1971 when she moved to MGM Records, where many tradional singers were making a last attempt to legitamize tradtional pop music within the drastically changing music world. At MGM she released It Was A Good Time, a compilation of the era’s popular songs penned by some of the most prolific and redoubtably successful young songwriters of the time; tracks included James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “A House Is Not a Home,” and Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s, “Oh No Not My Baby.”
After 1973, the frequency of Eydie’s album output slowed significantly. Fortunately for both she and Steve, the two still possessed a large following of devoted fans, and this audience allowed for the continuation of their night club appearances. It was also during this time that television would once again act as a great boon for Eydie. She made numerous guest appearances on various variety shows, in particular, The Carol Burnett Show, whose variety-show format accomodated both Eydie’s singing and acting talents. It was her initial television special, Mame. The latter rendition gave her a Top Ten hit and earned her her first Grammy Award for Best Female Vocal Performance. The album became a Top 40 hit that year, while her Spanish language holiday compilation Navidad Means Christmas shot to the Top Ten position of the Christmas charts. Eydie would continue to chart in the Top 100 with her 1967 release, Softly, as I Leave You, a collection of torchy ballads. Weaving in and out of two individual careers, she and husband Steve also released Together on Broadway. By the end of the year, the label would issue Eydie Gorme’s Greatest Hits, suggesting her greatest commercial appeal was over.
1975’s Our Love Is Here To Stay, that garnered the most critical and commercial attention, in addition to creating an artistic template for two subsequent Emmy-winning specials. Our Love was an hour-long tribute to the music of George and Ira Gershwin, starring Eydie, Steve, and iconic dancer and actor Gene Kelly. Meeting critical acclaim, the special earned an Emmy, as well as two additional nominations.
After a five year hiatus, Eydie returned to recording, focusing on the Latin market with the release of La Gorme. The album earned her a 1976 Grammy nomination for Best Latin Recording, an honor that would be repeated the following year for Muy Amigos, an album in which she collaborated with famed Latin singer Danny Rivera. Despite her success in the Latin music realm, she invariably continued to record in English, and staged a notable return to the charts with her version of “What I Did for Love,” the most memorable song from the Broadway musical A Chorus Line. In 1977, Eydie would enjoy more commercial success on television. The critical acclaim garnered for the Gershwin special spurred on production of a second television special, From This Moment On, showcasing the celebrated music of Cole Porter. Steve and Eydie collaborated with veteran performers Ethel Merman, the brassy Broadway star, and loveable comedian Bob Hope; the following year, Steve and Eydie would star alongside their friend and frequent co-star Carol Burnett and renowned singer Sammy Davis, Jr. in one final special dedicated to Irving Berlin. Exceeding the preceding television extravaganzas in accolades, the program received an unprecedented seven Emmy Awards.
While forays into television fared well for Eydie and Steve in the late 1970s, the same could not be said for their music. In an effort to gain more radio airplay, they released a single entitled “Hallelujah” under the assumed alias of ‘Parker and Penny’. Though the single charted, their adoption of a recording pseudonym was short-lived, and the two returned to the stage to again claim the unwavering following guaranteed them in such a venue. Eydie released two albums at the onset of the 1980’s: returning to her musical roots, she recorded Since I Fell for You, a collection of well-known jazz standards, while the following year she once again concentrated on her Spanish music with the release of Tomame o Dejame.
The majority of the 1980s consisted of extended nightclub engagements, as well as lengthy periods performing in Las Vegas. In 1986 the couple retreated from the spotlight after the sudden death of their youngest son, Michael. They remained in seclusion for a year, until, with the urging of their son, David, they decided to go back to work. Allowing their music and performing to act as a balm, they embarked on a national tour, and later concluded their concert series in Europe. Eydie closed the decade with the release of another Spanish album, De Corazon a Corazon.
In 1990, Eydie and Steve were asked to join their close friend and mentor, Frank Sinatra, on his Diamond Jubilee Tour, a much-anticipated concert series. The year-long event commenced in the United States, brought the trio of dynamic vocalists to 75 different locations worldwide, and was met with great reception by fans and critics alike. Their work with Sinatra did not end with the tour, however, in 1993 Steve and Eydie were featured on Frank’s Duets album, providing vocals for the song “Where or When.”
Eydie released what would be her final solo albums, the Spanish-language compilation Eso Es El Amor and Silver Screen Songs, a tribute to many popular movie themes, in 1992. The majority of the decade consisted of the duo’s own tours, with various guest appearances on popular television shows. With the dawning of the new millennium, and after fifty years in the business, Steve and Eydie embarked on their “One More For the Road” tour, launched in 2002. Despite their pared down touring schedule, the pair continued to perform steadily in the years following, visiting many venues throughout the United States.