Thursday, April 16, 2009

Charlie Gracie

When I was in sixth grade at Eglin Air Force Base in northwest Florida, we had "social dancing" in the combination dining room and auditorium every Wednesday afternoon. Tables and chairs would be folded and stacked against the walls, and the teacher would spin 45s on a portable record player. The music was a good cross section of top 40 hits of the time (1957-58): Elvis, of course; Fats Domino; the Everlys; Little Richard; Gale Storm singing "Dark Moon." One of the hits frequently played was a bouncy rocker called "Butterfly," sung by Andy Williams. Years later, I learned that Williams' version wasn't the original recording of this song. It was first done on the Cameo label, out of Philadelphia, by a fellow named Charlie Gracie. (Update: for more on Charlie Gracie, including a video of him singing "Butterfly", see here.)

In the summer of 2007, I caught a performance by Charlie, then 71, at the Roots of American Music Festival, held annually outdoors at Lincoln Center. He did an eclectic set that stressed his rockabilly roots, but included a jazzy instrumental version of "Tea for Two" as well as Havah Nagilah and, as a nod to his Italian ancestry, O Sole Mio. In the clip above, he does "I'm All Right", a song written by a friend of his as a tribute to the late Eddie Cochran.