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the otto files

where the classics never go out of style

Today is the 84th birthday of singer Julius La Rosa. Best known for the folkloric little ditty, “Eh Cumpari,” La Rosa was actually one of the finest interpreters the Great American Songbook ever had. He was one of the very few vocalists who had the gift of Sinatra or Holiday for singing the lyrics of a song and making you feel as though he truly understood and felt the emotions of the song. Ella Fitzgerald once called La Rosa “the most underrated singer she knew.”

Brooklyn born and raised, La Rosa’s roots were in Sicily just like mine and Sinatra’s. It’s why we all got along so well. Obviously, I’m kidding although I feel very lucky to say that I spent time in the company of both men.

I met Sinatra in 1980 and spent about three hours with him in a Resorts International Hotel lounge after his performance. He told stories, signed my album and when we got up to leave, he pinched my cheek and tapped it and told me to get to bed.

I met La Rosa on three different occasions, spending time with him in a radio studio while he was hosting his radio show, sharing a couple of meals with him and traveling with him on a train. He was always very forthcoming, open, honest, entertaining and intelligent. We e-mailed regularly and spoke by phone and I interviewed him live on the air for my own radio show about three or four times.

Unfortunately, he seems to be best remembered for being fired, live on the air, by the megalomaniacal Arthur Godfrey in 1953. Following his time with Godfrey, he made numerous appearances with Ed Sullivan, appeared on summer replacement shows for Perry Como, performed in musical theater, hosted a popular radio program on WNEW in New York City and recorded numerous albums. Music writer Gene Lees remembered him as the best of the vocalists to emerge from the Sinatra school of singers.

For whatever reason, he did NOT have that indescribable magnetism that makes a superstar. The talent he had in abundance.

For what it’s worth, I’ve interviewed quite a few singers, musicians and athletes in the past 14 years. La Rosa will always be one of my favorites of all theĀ  people I’ve ever met and interviewed. A great talent and just a wonderfully sweet man. I wish him every happiness imaginable today and always.

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