One of the prototypical Italian-American crooners, Vic Damone parlayed a smooth, mellow baritone into big-time pop stardom during the ’40s and ’50s. Early in his career, his inflection and phrasing were clearly indebted to Frank Sinatra, who once famously called him “the best set of pipes in the business.” Overall, though, Damone’s style was softer than Sinatra’s and owed less to the elasticity of jazz, especially since he was a solo performer who never served an apprenticeship with a swing orchestra. Very much the heartthrob in his heyday, his repertoire relied heavily on romantic ballads, though he did sprinkle in the occasional pop novelty or Italian folk song. He managed a parallel career as a film actor and, later, a TV variety host, and remained an active nightclub performer for decades after he disappeared from the charts.
Damone was born Vito Rocca Farinola in Brooklyn, New York, on June 12, 1928. His mother was a piano teacher and his father an electrician who also sang and played guitar, but it was Sinatra who provided his first musical awakening, and inspired him to start voice lessons. His first performances came in a youth choir and at school events. When his father was seriously injured in a work accident, young Vic was forced to drop out of school to help support the family, and got a job at the Paramount Theater in Manhattan as an usher and elevator operator. One night, while taking Perry Como up to his dressing room, Vic gave an impromptu performance and asked the singer if he had any talent; Como encouraged him, referred him to a local bandleader, and became something of a mentor to him.
Adopting his mother’s maiden name, Damone won first place on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show in 1947, which led to regular professional gigs on local radio. While on the set of the show, he also met Milton Berle, who helped him get gigs at the prominent nightclubs La Martinique and the Aquarium. All the attention landed the 19-year-old Damone a record deal with Mercury in fairly short order. His debut single, “I Have But One Heart,” sold well, and the follow-ups, “You Do” and the Patti Page duet “Say Something Sweet to Your Sweetheart,” were also successful. He began hosting his own radio show, Saturday Night Serenade, and played big New York venues like the Copa and the Paramount (where he’d once worked).