By: Judy Dick
Pierino Ronald 'Perry' Como, the seventh son to Pietro Como and Lucia Travaglini was born on 18th May 1912. Although Perry, the first of his parent's children who would be born in the U.S. could call himself a Pennsylvanian, his ancestry was deep in the Italian Abruzzese town of Palena, The seventh of 13 children, he was brought up in an Italian-speaking home and could not speak English until he started school.
As a toddler, young Perry discovered the second-hand organ his father had attained for $3 and it was apparent the child had an ear for music as he began to play tunes by ear. Pietro was an amateur baritone and encouraged all of his children to attend music lessons, a luxury the family could ill afford but it was Perry who took on work to pay for more lessons. Perry was proficient at the trombone, guitar and organ but never indulged in singing lessons.
Pietro was diagnosed with a heart condition which gave Perry an opportunity to manage his own barber shop when he was 14 and it was Como and his brothers who would support the household solely. Regardless of how he felt about his musical abilities, Perry's main vocation was to become the best barber in town. With a delightful twist that ensured customers would return to his shop in his home town, he worked as a singing barber. He was also a member of the Canonsburg Italian Band along side Stan Vinton, a long term customer at his barber shop and the father of Bobby Vinton. Whilst he was also the church organist, Como sang at weddings and became so popular as the 'Wedding Barber', he was invited to work and sing in Pittsburgh and throughout Ohio.
It was 1929 and the 17-year-old Como met Roselle Belline. During a gathering around the campfire Como was invited to sing and he chose More Than You Know. Whilst his baritone voice rang into the night, his eyes never left Roselle for the duration of the song. They were married four years later and raised three children together.
Como received his first break with Ted Weem's Orchestra in the mid-1930s. It was on Weem's radio show 'Beat The Band' he was truly heard but after their break-up in 1942, Perry had visions of returning home to do what he thought he did best; barbering. He was intercepted and invited to host 'Supper Club', a regional CBS radio show that would become the catalyst of his budding career.
In 1943, he signed an exclusive contract with RCA Victor Records that would forge a career spanning over half a century. Como was affectionately known as "Mr. C" and went on to sell millions of records whilst also appearing weekly on a musical variety television show. His television shows and specials would be broadcast globally as Perry Como continued to release hit after hit from the mid-'40s through to the 1970's.
It was 1945 that with the film, 'Words And Music' Como truly spread his wings. He then released Till The End of Time which spent 10 weeks at the top of the charts; it was this song that became the biggest hit of the year. Como followed through with ballads that truly justified his voice and in 1958 the Como's celebrated their silver wedding anniversary. It was throughout the 1950s that Como's appeal had remained unrivalled but when rock 'n' roll entered the music scene like a temptress that drew people into its popular beat, Perry Como's last number one song became Catch a Falling Star in 1958. He vanished from the world he knew for much of the following ten years but returned in 1970 for live shows in Las Vegas and television appearances.
He spent his final Christmas in Dublin in 1994 whilst filming a special and it would be his last appearance due to ill health. Roselle died suddenly on August 12th, 1998. She was 84 and Como was devastated by her loss. Como joined her in the May of 2001 and was buried next to his wife of 65 years.