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Biography

Singer. Born Pierino Como, on May 18, 1912, in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Como was one of 13 children of Pietro and Lucia Travagalini, who had come to the United States from the Abruzzi region of Italy. He started cleaning a local barbershop at the age of 10, quickly learned the trade, and by the time he was 14 owned his own shop. On weekends, he sang with local organizations, like the Sons of Italy, for extra money. Como learned to play both organ and baritone horn as a child, and he became one of the few singers of his generation who could read music.

In 1932, Como became the featured vocalist for a band formed by Freddie Carlone and his brothers, Tony and Frank. Five years later, he caught the attention of the well-known bandleader Ted Weems. He spent the next six years performing with the Weems band, until the start of World War II, when Weems left to serve in the military.

By that time, Como and his wife, Roselle, whom he married in 1933, were living in Long Island City, Queens, New York, with their young son, Ronald. Tired of his grueling and unrewarding singing schedule at clubs in New York, Como considered moving back to Pennsylvania to continue his work as a barber. Instead, an agent convinced him to stick with it, and in 1943, Como signed his first recording contract, with RCA Records. His first single, “Goodbye Sue,” was released that year. He went on to record a number of hit records, including “When You Were Sweet 16,” “Because,” “Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes," “Papa Loves Mambo,” and "It's Impossible." By 1946, Billboard magazine readers placed Como second only to his idol, Bing Crosby, in a poll about top vocalists; the choices also included Frank Sinatra. Disc jockeys, and his fans, rewarded Como with such nicknames as “Mr. Nice Guy” and “Mr. Class,” and he won a Grammy Award as Best Male Vocalist in 1958 for “Catch a Falling Star.”

Also in 1943, Como signed a seven-year motion picture contract with 20th Century Fox. Como’s movies, including Something for the Boys (1944), Doll Face (1945), and Words and Music (1948), were only moderately successful. A radio show, The Chesterfield Supper Club, became a hit on NBC in 1944, and in the late 1940s, Como moved to the fledgling medium of television, where he would find his widest audience. The Perry Como Show, which ran on NBC from 1948 to 1950, on CBS from 1950 to 1955, and again on NBC from 1955 to 1963, became the third-longest-running TV show ever, behind only Gunsmoke and Lassie. Como won several Emmy Awards in the 1950s for his work on the show, which showcased his laid-back style and smooth baritone.

Como continued making television specials into the 1980s, by which time he enjoyed worldwide record sales of over 100 million. He lived with his family (in addition to Roland, he and Roselle had a daughter, Therese, and another son, David) in Sands Point, Long Island, most of his career, moving to Florida in the 1970s. Roselle died in 1998. Como, who passed away on May 12, 2001, at the age of 88, was survived by his three children, 13 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

© 2001 A&E Television Networks. All rights reserved.

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