BBC web pages‎ > ‎

Perry Como: From clipper to crooner

Sunday, 13 May, 2001, 02:15 GMT 03:15 UK
Perry Como has died after a lengthy illness
"They were always telling me to use my hands more", said Perry Como. "But that was never me. I just breathe."

So America's ultimate crooner explained the relaxed, honey-voiced technique that sold more than 100 million records, and in a phenomenal 60-year career, provided more than a few Magic Moments, the title of perhaps his most famous song.

Before finding such celebrity, young Pierino Roland Como did use his hands, providing the coiffure for his entire home town.

Destined to be lucky as the seventh son of a seventh son, 12-year-old Como was apprenticed to a local barber in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

Como's first job: Canonsburg barber

For years, he sang while he clipped, and was eventually persuaded by his customers to audition for a local band.

Although Como only considered his evenings at the microphone a brief sojourn from his daily trade, huge success soon came his way.

Singing with the Ted Weems orchestra, he recorded for the Decca label in 1935, and although the group split seven years later, their vocalist was offered his own radio show and a recording contract with RCA-Victor.

Tuxedoed crooners were the order of the day, teenagers were screaming for Sinatra, and before long Como was causing equal mayhem at the Paramount Theatre in New York.

The 1943 song Goodbye Sue was his first hit single, and in 1945 Como became the first artist to break the one-million-selling mark with his song Till the End of Time.

Como's recording output was prodigious

Such hits as Magic Moments, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, What did Delaware? and Catch a Falling Star quickly followed.

During his lengthy career, 27 of Como's records went gold, and during one week in 1946, four million of his distinctive recordings went to print.

Como enjoyed a brief dalliance with Hollywood, including joining an all-star cast for MGM's 1946 musical Words and Music, but found his proper metier in front of the television camera.

His easy manner, showmanship and good looks were made for the new medium and, from 1955, his show on NBC brought him a new legion of fans.

It also brought the most lucrative ever contract for an individual performer, when he was signed up for an unprecedented 12 years to host his weekly programme.

As well as enjoying his global television stardom, Como continued making radio performances, made a chart comeback in 1971 with It's Impossible and followed this up with And I Love You So.

A consummate showman for more than 60 years

Performing well into his eighties, this consummate professional continued to please little old ladies and teenagers alike.

And his television success meant he remained at the pinnacle of the industry, despite making rare concert tours and giving even rarer interviews.

He was married for more than 60 years to his childhood sweetheart Roselle, the lady who told him not to worry if stardom eluded him as he could always open another barber shop. This never happened.

The road in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, where he clipped to the sound of his own dulcet tones, has since been renamed Perry Como Avenue.