Arthur Tracy, the Street Singer, Dies at 98


NEW YORK (10-8-97) -- Arthur Tracy, the celebrated Street Singer on radio and recordings in the 1930s and 40s, died on Sunday at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He was 98 and lived in Manhattan.

With his richly romantic voice, Tracy was a musical star for decades, singing his theme song, "Marta, Rambling Rose of the Wildwood," as well as such ballads as "When I Grow Too Old to Dream," "I'll See You Again," "Red Sails in the Sunset" and "Danny Boy."

He had a comeback in the early 1980s when his 1937 recording of "Pennies From Heaven" was heard on the soundtrack of Herbert Ross' movie of that name. The movie starred Steve Martin; Tracy's voice was lip-synched by Vernal Bagneris.

In 1982, at 82, Tracy began a new cabaret career, appearing at the Cookery in Greenwich Village. Reviewing his performance, John Wilson wrote in The New York Times that his voice had "a delightful patina of period charm." He added that he was "a spellbinder, setting a mood and scene, disarming the doubters by admitting that 'I always put all the schmalz I had into my songs."'

With his clear diction and troubadour manner, Tracy became known as the most American of singers. Actually, he was born Abba Tracovutsky in Kamenetz-Podolsk in Moldavia (on the borders of Ukraine and Romania). Escaping the pogroms, the Tracovutsky family emigrated to the United States in 1906. Tracy grew up in Philadelphia with his seven siblings. He is survived by a brother, Bert, of Washington.

As a child, he displayed a talent for music and sang at weddings and parties. He was soon appearing in vaudeville theaters in Philadelphia and hotels in Atlantic City. From there he went into a touring company of "Blossom Time," and performed in various amateur nights at New York theaters. William Paley heard him sing and gave him a 15-minute CBS radio program.

Tracy was going to bill himself as the Vagabond Singer until he realized that Rudy Vallee was known as the Vagabond Lover. Reading about a Frederick Lonsdale play called "The Street Singer," he decided to adopt that as his identity. In 1931, he made his radio debut under that name, and listeners were mesmerized by the mysterious unknown voice.

After five months, his identity was revealed and within a year he was in Hollywood appearing in The Big Broadcast with Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, the Boswell Sisters and other radio stars.

In 1935, he visited England, where his recordings were already known. For many years he was one of that country's favorite American entertainers. He made movies in England, including "Limelight" with Anna Neagle, "The Street Singer" with Margaret Lockwood and "Command Performance" with Lilli Palmer.

After his re-emergence with "Pennies From Heaven," he acted in the touring company of Andrew Bergman's Broadway play "Social Security" and was in the movie "Crossing Delancey." In 1996, he was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. His autobiography, "The Street Singer," is to be published this year by Harold Martin & Redman.

This week Tracy's former wife, Blossom, remembered his radio debut: "The announcer said, 'Down the corner and round your way comes the Street Singer to sing to you his romantic ballads of yesterday and yore."' After Tracy sang, she said, the announcer returned: "And there he goes, the Street Singer ... back again tomorrow night to serenade you."

On records, reissued as compact disks, the Street Singer's serenade continues.

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