How talented would a 16-year-old musician in the early 1940’s have had to be to grab the attention of Benny Goodman? And not only that, but to then have the King of Swing offer him a job as pianist, singer, and arranger with the biggest of the big bands? That teenager was Buddy Greco, and he would spend four years with Goodman before making the move to a solo singing career that would last more than 70 years.
Armando Joseph Greco was yet another Philadelphia native who seemed headed to a musical career while growing up. Starting with piano at age four, he was singing on local radio within a few years. By his teens he was appearing in Philly night clubs and that’s where Benny Goodman found him. Goodman was then at the height of his fame and still renowned for his landmark Carnegie Hall Concert a few years earlier. Like most bandleaders he was always on the lookout for new talent and he wasted no time in latching on to the young performer.*
Still just 20 at the beginning of the post-war years, Greco had gained a lot of experience by then and he decided to try to break out with a solo career. Unlike most other crooners of the era he was also a talented pianist, which might have given him an added advantage. At first he again worked the night club circuit, but he soon began hitting the recording studio too. His first charted record was 1947’s oddly-named “Ooh! Look-A There, Ain’t She Pretty.”
Greco’s career continued to build through the 1950’s as he kept making new records, including the solid hit “I Ran All the Way Home.” He also began making guest appearances on TV variety shows like this spot on Rosemary Clooney’s program in 1956.
During the 1960’s Greco really broke out as a star. In addition to his always healthy record sales, which produced hits like “The Lady Is a Tramp” — a million-seller — he made countless musical guest appearances on TV and even hosted his own show for a while. He also did some acting, including a small part in a movie and in several TV shows. Back on the musical side of things, he appeared alongside the Beatles for a royal command performance for Queen Elizabeth.
He also began to be associated — at least to some extent — with another kind of royalty, Frank Sinatra’s famous ‘rat pack’. It’s been said that Sinatra described him as having ‘the best pipes in the business’ (although he’s also been quoted as saying that about Tony Bennett and Vic Damone) and they did seem friendly both on and off stage. Greco also made some records for Reprise, Sinatra’s record company, so that probably helped things along.
Greco would continue to pursue his musical career with a lot of success in subsequent decades. While he seldom inhabited the top tiers of the charts, he had countless good sellers and became a fan favorite. Among his most popular records through the years were “Around the World”, “I Can’t Begin to Tell You”, “Love’s Gonna Live Here Again”, and “There She Goes”. Eventually he would generate more than 60 albums of music for his many followers.
Like many performers Greco kept working into his later years, and was still going strong in the early 1990’s when he sang with an orchestra that toured to great success with a tribute to the music of Benny Goodman. He also made extended appearances in Las Vegas, where in 1995 he met and married wife number five. The two then worked together in a nightclub act, first in Vegas and then in a club they opened themselves in Palm Springs. Eventually the couple also began spending a lot of time in England, where Greco had always enjoyed a large fan base. It was there that he spent most of his time in his twilight years, often touring and entertaining British fans, although the couple also enjoyed extended stays at their home in Palm Springs. They also made regular visits to Las Vegas, and it was there that Buddy Greco died at age 90 in January of 2017.
*Benny Goodman ‘discovered’ many musical artists, including some we’ve featured on the GMC. Among them are: Harry James, Lionel Hampton, Mel Powell, Peggy Lee, Jess Stacy, Helen Ward, Martha Tilton, and Art Lund.