Boy, Could He Sing – My Grandfather

 

What a voice he had. A deep and rumbling baritone – a New York accent tempered by elegance – and boy, could he could sing.

As a young man, my grandfather found his way into the entertainment business. There are yellowed newspaper clippings – little bits in the music columns about the new and fantastic singer, Paul Barry, who was introduced to the world by his life-long friend Lennie Hayton, who at the time was the musical director of WEAF radio.

My grandfather also spent a year touring with Mae West as one of the male dancers in her show.

dancers and singers, Mae West, 1930s, entertainers, grandfather, family, family history, midlife, empty-nest, baby boomer
That’s my grandfather in the lower left corner

With the Lennie Hayton orchestra, my grandfather sang on the radio on “Your Hit Parade,” alongside greats like Bing Crosby and Perry Como. Eventually, my grandfather became a singer with the Tommy Dorsey band, where he preceded a then unknown skinny kid from New Jersey named Frank Sinatra. They too became friends.

Tommy Dorsey and Paul at the piano for a promotional still.

When I was growing up, I thought he was the most glamorous man in the world. Having left behind the grind of performing and traveling when my mother was born, my grandfather had a life-long career as a music publisher, working with many of the most famous and successful musicians of his era. He had an office at the iconic Brill Building in New York City, the hub of the music business in the 50’s and 60’s. There was often music in my grandparent’s house – after dinner my grandmother would sit down to play the piano, and many of our family’s conversations were punctuated by song lyrics, like some domestic musical comedy.

There were some interesting people around my grandparent’s home, music industry folks who liked to sing and drink and smoke and have a lot of fun. For a little girl, this was mesmerizing – how they could sit down at the piano and suddenly a party would start. And always, my grandfather Paul was the most handsome man in the room – with deep blue eyes and dark, wavy hair – his skin darkly tanned from hours lying in the sun in his backyard, listening to his beloved Yankee games on a transistor radio, beer in hand.

Through Youtube, I connected with a wonderful guy named Big Lou who had posted some of my grandfather’s recordings. He later added some pictures of my grandparents to the videos (that’s them in the first photo):

Through Ebay I’ve been able to find every one of the recordings he made with the Lennie Hayton orchestra – including two none of us had ever heard. My grandmother’s copies of his records had been destroyed in a flood at her storage unit, so finding the records has been a thrill. I’ve collected multiple copies of each of his records so everyone in my family can have a few.

He loved the theme song to “Cheers,” and I think of him every time I hear it. He also was the publisher of the theme to “M.A.S.H,” and I remember him each time I hear that, too.

I was lucky to have Paul for my grandfather. I got the best of him – the goofy jokes, the songs sung to me, the big, strong paw of a hand gentle on my arm. When he and my grandmother retired to Florida, we would spend every vacation with them, and he would sit on the terrace for hours after dinner with a glass (or two) of wine, looking out at the ocean. What was he looking for, we always wondered. He never told. He was a man typical of his generation – strong and silent about his interior life.

He was an afficionado of vocals and lyrics, plucking especially wonderful lines out of songs to share with me, including this phrase that he told me was one of his favorites

My darling, my darling, I fluttered and fled like a starling…

I wish I knew what song those lyrics are from.

From him I learned to hear music, not just listen to it – and I also learned to be physically unnerved by songs sung out of tune, flat, sharp, or just plain badly. He had perfect pitch and no tolerance for flat notes.

Watching American Idol, I imagine him saying “What the hell is this noise?”

Twenty-five years after he died, I can still hear my grandfather Paul singing to me – always in tune. Every time he sang, I loved it.

granddaughter, grandfather, 1960's picture, family, my grandfather, midlife, empty-nest, baby boomer
My grandfather and me

 

Comments

  1. says

    What a wonderful story. I am too young to have lived through this musical time, but my dad, he was too young as well, filled our house with music from this era. I love listening to it, still. Music is a gift that gives and gives, it’s always in our hearts. Beautiful, Sharon.
    Brenda recently posted..You Lost That Loving FeelingMy Profile

  2. Carol says

    Sharon;

    This is so beautiful! What wonderful memories you have..and looking at those photos of Paul & Amy, hearing him sing..I learned things I didn’t know!
    The song he used to sing to you is “My Darling”, My Darling” from Where’s Charley..didn’t he publish the music?
    Thanks for sharing!
    Carol

  3. says

    I grew up with a musical family on my Dad’s side, Sharon and I know the thrill of a party starting around a piano – yes, even though we lived in India we grew up on Western music. All the songs of the 50s and 60s were sung around that piano. Christmas at my grandparents home was so magical because of the singing.
    You must be so proud of your grandfather – he sure was a handsome man and so talented too! I’m so glad that you were able to retrieve some of his music. Now every time I watch Mash I’ll think of you! :)
    Corinne Rodrigues recently posted..Do You Know Marilyn?My Profile

  4. says

    What a lovely story, Sharon. It’s amazing what can be found now on the Internet, and how we can discover our parents, grandparents, and other relatives from bits and pieces we can now access.

    I found some cool things on my grandfather about a year ago (also a musician), and something about my mother that I didn’t know, just a week ago. (It makes me wonder what our children and grandchildren may find decades from now that makes them smile.)

    I love that you can still hear his voice in your head, and now – really still hear his voice.
    BigLittleWolf recently posted..Daily, NightlyMy Profile

  5. says

    What a lovely tribute. No wonder you were so starstruck with your grandfather. And the picture of you and him? Priceless! My husband’s family is very musical too – they often sing and pull out instruments when they get together. Nothing as glamorous as your grandfather’s circles but they have fun. And I love it.
    Thanks for sharing a bit of your grandfather with us. And I think perhaps he wasn’t necessarily looking or searching for anything when he’d gaze out to sea. Probably just content and at peace.
    Barb recently posted..Knock your socks offMy Profile

  6. Leni Reiss says

    Sharon, we all were once and always in love with Amy — and awed by Paul. As a dear friend of your moms, I had the great fun of spending time with all the family in the wonderful Great Neck house, watching Jonny and Susie grow up and watching Amy work her magic in every way. She was the first mother, as I recall, to invite us to call her by her name, instead of Mrs. Barry. I thought that was so very sophisticated! And yet she was as real and fun and joyful as anyone I have ever known. What you have done here is a gorgeous tribute. You were lucky to have her — and Paul — and they were lucky to have all of you. Thinking of the whole family with much love and many precious memories. Leni Reiss

  7. Ed Pals says

    Thanks for the website. I tracked here from hearing a song in a Dick Powell movie (The Singing Marine). In the movie, Doris Weston sings a song “I Know Now,” a Harry Warren-Al Dubin song, like the others in the movie. I liked the song so looked it up, and found a version on YouTube sung by Paul Barry, with the Lennie Hayton Orchestra. That led me to look up “Paul Barry” and led me here. Thanks much. He had a fine voice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge