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Mel Torme, singer, 73

Saturday June 5 2:00 PM ET 

Mel Torme, 'The Velvet Fog', Dies At 73

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jazz singer Mel Torme, who died in a Los Angeles
hospital Saturday, was dubbed ``The Velvet Fog'' by teen fans in the 1940s
and enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1980s with his improvisational style
and a wide repertory of jazz and pop songs.

Torme was also a song arranger, drummer, actor, author and a writer of
tunes, including the classic ``A Christmas Song''.

In 1982 and 1983, he won Grammy Awards for Best Male Jazz Vocalist for the
albums ``An Evening With George Shearing and Mel Torme'' and ``Top
Drawer,'' also featuring Shearing on the piano.

He had frequent mentions and appearances on the television comedies
``Nightcourt,'' where he was the hero of a fictional judge played by a
real-life fan, and on ``Seinfeld''.

In a review of his 1988 autobiography, ``It Wasn't All Velvet,'' a New
York Times critic wrote of Torme, ``There are those who have bigger vocal
techniques, but no male singer of his generation, or since, has had the
musical command that he does.''

Of Torme's passion for jazz, singer Ethel Waters once said, ''Mel Torme is
the only white man who sings with the soul of a black man.''

In his autobiography, Melvin Howard Torme, born on Sept. 13, 1925,
attributed at least part of that to his childhood in a black section of
Chicago. His father, a Russian immigrant, owned a dry goods store. His
musical family also included a babysitter who played piano in an all-woman

At age four, Torme began singing at a restaurant and he spent his
childhood performing in vaudeville and on such radio soap operas as ``The
Romance of Helen Trent'' and ``Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.''

In high school, he formed his own bands and sold his first song, ``Lament
of Love,'' to Harry James. In 1942, he traveled as a singer and song
arranger with the Chico Marx band, where he was spotted by a film

Torme sang and acted in the movies ``Higher and Higher'' (1943), ``Pardon
My Rhythm'' (1944), ``Let's Go Steady'' (1945), ''Good News'' (1947) and
``Words and Music'' (1948). At the same time, he also sang in nightclubs
and concerts and recorded with his back-up group, the Mel-Tones.

He eventually went solo, finding success mainly in Britain.

In 1946, with lyric writer Robert Wells, Torme wrote ``The Christmas
Song,'' which became Nat King Cole's biggest hit and a seasonal favorite.

>From 1951 to 1953, Torme hosted his own afternoon variety show on CBS
television. In 1957, he received an Emmy nomination for his performance
opposite Mickey Rooney in ``The Comedian,'' a CBS Playhouse 90 drama.

He also appeared as a villain in the gangster movies ``Girls Town'' (1957)
and ``The Big Operator'' (1959) and acted in ``The Private Lives of Adam
and Eve'' (1960).

In 1962, his only hit single, ``Comin' Home, Baby,'' broke onto the Top 40
charts. From 1963 to 1964, he was the music writer for ``The Judy Garland
Show'' and, in 1970, soon after Garland's death, he wrote a memoir of the
period, ``The Other Side of the Rainbow.'' The book was both panned and
praised for its account of Garland's decline.

In 1978, Torme released his novel, ``Wynner,'' about a singer who becomes
a movie star. He also wrote for magazines and penned and acted in episodes
of the TV shows ``Run For Your Life'' and ``The Virginian.'' In the
mid-1970s, Torme achieved new vocal strength and range, which he
attributed to getting more sleep and a lifetime without smoking and hard

A landmark performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1978 was followed
by regular concerts in Las Vegas, New York and Los Angeles with the likes
of Buddy Rich, Carmen McRae, Gerry Mulligan and Shearing. ``Mel Torme and
Friends,'' a 1981 album, was also popular.

Torme said that, of his roughly 50 albums, he was most proud of his later
ones, including ``Friends,'' his Grammy winners, ''Together Again -- For
the First Time'' (with Buddy Rich), ``A New Album'' and ``Live at the

In later years, Torme performed regularly at the JVC Jazz Festival at
Carnegie Hall and the Playboy Jazz Festival and ''Jazz at the Bowl''
series at the Hollywood Bowl.

In August 1996, he suffered a stroke and was hospitalized, preventing him
from making his annual performance at the Hollywood Bowl.

Torme, who lived in Beverly Hills, was married and divorced from actress
Candy Toxton, model Arlene Miles and actress Janette Scott. With them, he
had five children. In 1984, he wed Ali Severson, an attorney. 

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