Pic of the Week: Velvet Birthday Edition

“Portrait of Mel Tormé, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948.” Photograph by William P. Gottlieb

This week’s  Pic of the Week breaks one of the cardinal rules of Good Photography: show your subject. But if you recognize the face emerging from the ghostly apparition, it makes perfect sense. Jazz singer Mel Tormé was born on this day in 1925.  He began his long career as a drummer for Chico Marx, and his credits include numerous television and film appearances, from a bit part in the 1943 Frank Sinatra vehicle Higher and higher to voice work in the 1988 Daffy Duck short “The night of the living duck.”

Tormé was also a gifted songwriter – if you know the words “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” you know his most famous work, the holiday standard “The Christmas song,” with lyrics by Bob Wells.   The popular Nat “King” Cole version was recorded in 1946, but the song has been recorded by many others since. James Brown, Reba McIntire, and even Twisted Sister have all shared in the holiday spirit with this song.

But it is as a singer that Tormé is best remembered, and his  silky smooth voice earned him the nickname “The Velvet Fog.” Photographer William P. Gottlieb saw fit to literally translate this nickname, and had a flash of inspiration while waiting for Tormé to come out of the shower. Listen to Gottlieb’s recollections of this session here.

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