Popular 1950s singer Jerry Vale has died at the age of 83, it was reported this weekend.
While Jerry Vale may not be a household name in 2014, back in the 50s, his crooner-style songs were huge hits — among them, the popular Italian-American pop classic “Volare.”
Vale’s music remained popular among Italian-Americans throughout his career, even after the supper club heyday of the 1950s. The New York Times reports of the Bronx-born singer’s rise to fame back then:
“Mr. Vale rose to stardom performing in supper clubs as a teenager, and hit the charts for the first time in 1953 with ‘You Can Never Give Me Back My Heart.’ He was a fixture at Columbia Records, where he recorded more than 50 albums and churned out hits like ‘Two Purple Shadows’ and ‘Al Di La.’ His biggest hit, ‘You Don’t Know Me,’ peaked at No. 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list in 1956.”
Mitch Miller, who signed Vale to Columbia in the early 50s, said at the time:
“Here’s a boy that should have them eating out of his hand in no time flat… There’s lots of voice in him.”
Throughout his life, Vale was closely associated with Italian-American culture in his native New York, where his roots are part of the news story surrounding his passing:
Fans recalled the role Jerry Vale’s style of music played in their memories of home:
But if the name Jerry Vale doesn’t sound all that Italian, you may have figured out that, like many Italian-American names, it was shortened and Americanized to appeal to those without Italian roots.
In fact, Vale was born Genaro Louis Vitaliano in the Bronx on July 8, 1930. And while his name was altered on the road to stardom, the singer’s style and scope hinged largely on his cultural heritage.
Later in his career, he remained culturally significant and appeared in movies such as Casino, Goodfellas, and the television hit The Sopranos. The crooner was also well-known for a very popular version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” commonly played for years at baseball games.
The Hollywood Reporter adds that Vale’s connection with baseball sprung from his days growing up in New York City:
“A lover of baseball who as a kid played stickball in the streets, Vale owned a Florida minor-league team, the Daytona Beach Admirals, that he sold to the New York Mets in the late 1980s. He often sang the national anthem at Yankee Stadium, and his gold record of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was displayed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.”
Jerry Vale was reportedly in declining health in his later years and had not performed since his stroke in 2002.