Singer Steve Lawrence, son of a cantor and half of ‘Steve and Eydie’

by | Mar 14, 2024 | Obituaries

Andrew Silow-Carroll
(JTA) — Steve Lawrence, the Brooklyn-born son of a cantor who with his wife Eydie Gormé formed one of the most enduring popular singing duos during the golden age of the Las Vegas lounge act and television variety show, died Thursday, March 7 in Los Angeles. He was 88.

In countless night club and TV appearances, Steve and Eydie offered smooth versions of American standards well into the rock and roll era — while modeling a happy marriage that proved a balm in an increasingly spiky cultural landscape. Their comfortably romantic banter helped sell classic duets like Side by Side, We Got Us, This Could Be the Start of Something and We Can Make it Together.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lawrence had a solo career that included the hits Go Away Little Girl, which sold over one million copies, Pretty Blue Eyes, Footsteps, Portrait of My Love, and Party Doll. He was also an actor, appearing in guest roles on television shows in every decade since the 1950s, including turns as Morty Fine, father of Fran Drescher’s title character in episodes of The Nanny.

In 1964, Lawrence was nominated for a Tony for his starring role in What Makes Sammy Run?, playing a ruthless Jewish Hollywood mogul in a Broadway musical based on Budd Schulberg’s classic novel.

In addition to their popular lounge act, Lawrence and Gormé appeared together in the Broadway musical Golden Rainbow, which ran from February 1968 to January 1969 and featured the Walter Marks song, I’ve Gotta Be Me. Although Lawrence’s version hit #6 on Billboard magazine’s Easy Listening chart, it was Sammy Davis, Jr.’s version that became a Top 25 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 pop singles chart in 1969.

Lawrence had shared the song with Davis, a Black convert to Judaism. “I sent him my record live and I said, ‘You’re going to do this your own way and better, because it’s much more lyrically correct coming from you than it is for me,” Lawrence told PBS in 2015.

Lawrence, born Sidney Liebowitz in Brooklyn, was the son of Max, a cantor and house painter, and Helen. He started singing in the synagogue choir. After dropping out of Thomas Jefferson High School, he won a spot on Arthur Godfrey’s morning radio show and recorded what became a string of solo hits in his smooth baritone.

He met Eydie (born Edith Gormezano, the daughter of Sephardic Jewish parents Nessim Hasdai Gormezano and Fortuna Gormezano, in the Bronx) when both were regular singers on The Steve Allen Show (later retitled The Tonight Show). They married in 1957. The pair won a Grammy Award in 1960 for their first complete duet album, We Got Us.

In 2010, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency nominated their version of the duet, Baby It’s Cold Outside as one of the best Jewish Christmas songs. Written by the Jewish composer and lyricist Frank Loesser, the song is about a man trying to convince a woman to stay in his apartment on a wintry night. While the sexual politics of the song have been criticized in recent years, Ron Kampeas writes of Steve and Eydie that “No other couple sings as closely together, or as knowingly.”

As tastes changed in the 1960s and ’70s, the pair continued performing before audiences of their generation. “Eydie and I have been fortunate in that the audiences where we have performed or done concerts all over the world, the audiences have been supportive, they really showed up,” he told an interviewer in 1995. “I can’t translate that into the record business. The Top 40 has driven myself and all of my colleagues to a different kind of niche.”

The couple sang together well into the early 2000s, before Eydie retired in 2009. She died in 2013.

Lawrence is survived by a son, David, a composer of movie soundtracks, and a granddaughter. Another son, Michael, predeceased him.