Perry Como went from a barbershop in Canonsburg, Pa. to become one of the best selling recording artists of all time and one of the most successful performers in radio and television history. His sixty year career began in 1932 as a big band singer with Freddy Carlone’s band and then with Ted Weems. Como became popular with national radio audiences in the 1930s appearing with Ted Weems regularly on the radio shows of Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, and Beat the Band. In 1943 he began on his own weekly radio show on CBS. His Perry Como Chesterfield Shows aired on NBC from 1944 to 1955. He began his solo recording career on RCA in 1943. As a Grammy winning recording artist he scored dozens of hit songs and sold over 100 million records. Moving to television in 1950 he pioneered the variety show format with his long running popular series on CBS and NBC. He won five Emmy awards and a Peabody award. With his success as a big band singer, radio show host, television personality, and recording artist Perry Como was honored as one of the most successful performers of the twentieth century. Como won a Christopher Award and was the Variety Club's Personality of the year for 1956. In 1983 Como’s accomplishments were recognized with a Kennedy Center award for outstanding achievement in the performing arts. Como received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. The Hit Parade Hall of Fame inducted Como in 2007. Como has e three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in radio, television, and music.
Perry Como’s popularity and accomplishments as a recording artist are astounding. Signing with RCA in 1943 he recorded for the label for forty-four years. No other major artist recorded for a single record label longer. In 1945 Como became the first recording artist ever to sell one million records with his hit single the “Till the End of Time”. In 1946 he was named the top-selling male singer by Billboard Magazine. He received the first ever Gold Record Award for his rendition of "Catch a Falling Star" in 1958. He won a Grammy in 1958 as Best Male Singer for his album “Catch a Falling Star”. Fourteen of his songs were number one hits. Forty-two of his songs were top 10 hits. Twenty four of his albums charted in the Billboard Top 100. During a single week in the 1940s four million of his records were pressed and sold. Twenty-seven of his recordings sold over a million records each. After winning numerous Gold Records, Como told the RIAA to stop counting declining to have many his songs certified gold. In total he sold more than 100 million records. Como received a 1973 Grammy award nomination for best male pop vocalist for "And I Love You So." His best known songs include “And I Love You So", “It's Impossible", "Dream Along with Me," "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes," "Temptation," "Because," "Till the End of Time," and "Prisoner of Love."
Born as Pierino Ronaldo Como in Canonsburg Pennsylvania in 1912, Perry Como was the son immigrants from Palena Italy. His father Pietro Como was a mill worker and amateur baritone singer. Lucia Travaglini Como was his mother. Perry was the seventh child a family of thirteen. As a toddler he learned by ear to play the family’s pump organ. All of the Como children took music lessons. Perry learned the guitar, organ, and trombone, but never had voice lessons. At age 10 Petty starting working after school in Steve Fragapane's barber shop earning money for music lessons and family expenses. During his teenage years he was a church organist and performed at weddings playing guitar and singing. Perry gained recognition locally for his singing. He played trombone in the Canonsburg Italian Brass Band along with his father Pietro and Bobby Vinton’s father Stan Vinton. Music was his avocation, but barbering was his career plan. At age 14 he earned $150 a week at his own barbershop in Canonsburg and in 1932 went to work at his uncle’s shop in Meadville.
In 1932 Perry went with his friends to the Silver Slipper Ballroom in Cleveland to hear Freddy Carlone and his orchestra. Carlone invited audience members to sing onstage with the band. At his friend’s urging Perry sang with the band. Impressed his voice Calone offered Perry a job with the band. With his father’s blessing Perry moved to Cleveland to join Carlone’s band. Perry sang with Carlone’s band for three years touring the Midwest. In 1936 band leader Ted Weems heard Perry perform with Carlone’s Orchestra in Warren, Ohio and offered him a job. Freddy Carlone urged Como to take Weem’s offer to gain national exposure.
Perry Como became Ted Weems’ vocalist in 1936 working with his orchestra for six years. The Ted Weems Orchestra, based in Chicago, performed regularly on the national radio shows of Jack Benny Show and Fibber McGee and Molly. The band has its on weekly show on the Mutual Broadcasting System from 1936 to 1937, where Perry developed his unique relaxed casual style. Como recorded the single “You Can’t Pull the Wool Over My Eyes” with the Weems band on Decca records in 1936. Perry appeared with the Weem band on the NBC quiz show “Beat the Band” from 1940 to 1943.
Tired of touring and wanting to settle down with his wife and child Como quit the Weems Band. He returned to Canonsburg where he planned to open a barber shop. Singing with Weems was fun, but now he had to get a real job as a barber to support his family. Artist agent Tommy Rockwell of the General Artists Corporation called Como offering him a radio show on CBS and a recording contract with RCA. Como could work from New York and staying off the road Perry went on the air at CBS in 1943 and recorded his first song for RCA, “Goodbye. Sue”, the same week. Rockwell also booked Como for two weeks at the Copacabana launching his night club and theater career. Making live appearances at the Paramount Theater in New York City and the Steel Pier in Atlantic City Como became a heart throb with the bobby-soxers. Como signed a Hollywood movie contract and made several films including “Something for the Boys” (1944), “Doll Face” (1945) and “If I'm Lucky” (1946). After two years at CBS radio, Perry moved to NBC radio joining to host the Perry Como Chesterfield Supper Club program.
Perry Como moved to NBC television with the weekly half-hour Chesterfield Supper Club show in 1948. Perry pioneered the TV variety show format offering comedy routines, dancing, singing, and guest stars. On his television show he was the cardigan-wearing, relaxed, nice-guy who sang to the world. In 1950 Como became the host of the Perry Como Show on CBS in 1950. It ran for 15 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Perry moved his show to NBC in 1955 where it ran for twelve seasons until 1963. It was one of the first weekly color TV shows. In 1959 the show was renamed the Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall. His show ran as monthly specials from 1963 to 1967. He continued to record specials for NBC until 1994. Beginning in 1948 his Christmas specials become an annually holiday treat that aired until 1987. The 1964 Kraft Music Hall Christmas show was aired from the Vatican and featured the first television appearance of the Sistine Chapel Choir. Como’s last Christmas special “Perry Como's Irish Christmas” was filmed in Dublin and aired in 1994 on PBS. Perry’s televisions shows won a Peabody award and five Emmy awards.
After his regular weekly television show ended Como toured the country. He made a 50th Anniversary tour in 1984 and continued touring into his eighties. Perry spent the final years of his life near Palm Beach, Florida, golfing, fishing, and enjoying time with the wife and great grandchildren. He sponsored charity event and golf benefits and hosted a weekly syndicated radio show. Canonsburg honored its native hero renaming its Third Street to “Perry Como Avenue” in 1946, holding the Perry Como Day in 1977, and erecting a statue of Perry in 1999. After a lifetime of entertaining millions of people with his music and calming personality Perry Como died in his sleep at age 88 in May of 2001.
Perry Como’s No 1 Hit Songs
"Till The End Of Time" (1945); "Prisoner of Love" (1946); "Surrender" (1946); "Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba" (1947); "A - You're Adorable" (1949); "Some Enchanted Evening" (1949); "Hoop-De-Doo" (1950); "If" (1951); "Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes" (1952); "No Other Love" (1953); "Wanted" (1954); "Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)" (1956); "Round And Round" (1957); and "Catch a Falling Star" (1957).