This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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FROM KID ACTOR TO JAZZ GREAT
(From Radio Recall, August 2010)
One of the most popular jazz singers for much of his career, Mel Torme began his climb in show business as a kid at Chicago’s Merchandise, running from one radio microphone to one in another studio.
“The Velvet Fog” was born in the Windy City in 1925 to Jewish immigrants from Russia. They recognized his singing talents early and got him occasional singing roles in local nightclubs. His big break came in 1934 at the Chicago World’s Fair when he won the children’s division singing “Going to Heaven on a Mule.” One of the judges was Ireene Wicker, “The Singing Lady”, who promptly cast him in her new soap opera , “Song of the City.”
Soon young Melvin found himself enrolled in “The Jack and Jill Players,” a kids drama school run by Marie Agnes Foley, who supplied most of the
juvenile actors in Chicago broadcasting. Mel was on Little Orphan Annie, Captain Midnight, Romance of Helen Trent, Jack Armstrong, Lights Out, Captain Midnight, and a host of others.
When his voice changed, he returned to music, playing drums in a band, singing, and composing arrangements, while still in high school. After graduation, he got his first movie role in Higher and Higher (1943) with Frank Sinatra.. The young boy crooner was on his way, first singing in groups and later as a soloist. He would go on to become a very popular recording artist, a featured singer in both Las Vegas and Carnegie Hall, and a night club favorite.
Regrettably, he died in 1999, the same year that he received the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.