Remembering Eydie Gorme, A Vegas Singer Without The Drama

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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 barred, singing about a love she never really lost, you realize that Gorme was classy, sophisticated, funny and show-stoppingly talented.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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