Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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SYMS, Sylvia

(b Sylvia Blagman, Manhattan; d 10 May '92 NYC aged 74) Fine singer with a strong contralto, excellent diction and an ability to swing in the Sinatra mould, which is a combination of musical talent and letting a song tell a story. Grew up in Flatbush, snuck out of the house at night and went to 52nd Street as a teenager, unafraid of the night life ('Who wanted to make passes at a fat Jewish girl from Brooklyn?') She wore her hair in braids and said that Art Tatum called her Moonbeam Moscowitz, the Jewish Indian. Her stories have to be taken with a grain of salt; her party piece about how she was responsible for Billie Holiday wearing flowers in her hair is probably not true. Short and stout and with spindly limbs, having suffered polio as a child, she also had no dress sense ('the clothes I wore made me look like the ''Beer Barrel Polka'''), but she eventually sang in most of the best clubs in the USA (especially 'every upholstered joint in New York'). Typically with a really fine mainstream pop singer, the record catalogues don't know what to do with her; of the few CDs in print, some are listed in jazz and some in pop. She recorded for Deluxe '47, Atlantic '53 (with Barbara Carroll on piano), '54 and '76, Decca '56, 20th Century '64, albums Sylvia Is! and For Once In My Life '65--7 on Prestige, Love Lady on Bainbridge mid-'70s and Then Along Came Bill and A Jazz Portrait Of Johnny Mercer '84 on DRG (with Joe Newman and Al Cohn). She Loves To Hear The Music '78 on A&M had Jon Faddis, Mike Brecker, Ron Carter etc in the band; Syms By Sinatra '82 on Reprise had arr. by Don Costa cond. by Frank Sinatra. She also worked on the stage in off-Broadway revivals, perfecting Bloody Mary in South Pacific, the lead in Hello Dolly! and numerous other parts (quotes from Whitney Balliett's profile).