Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mae West: Sylvia Syms

Born like MAE WEST in Brooklyn, New York, Sylvia Syms [2 December 2, 1917 — 10 May 1992] was a jazz singer whose birthname was Sylvia Blagman.
• • When she was a child, Sylvia contracted polio — — a disease that also afflicted Mae's sister Beverly and causes some sufferers to put on weight.
• • As a curious 15-year-old, Sylvia found her way to jazz joints on New York's "Prohibition Row" [West 52nd Street]. In 1941, the 24-year-old debuted at a club called Billy's Stable.
• • During 1948, Mae West went to performances at the Cinderella Club in Greenwich Village to see Rae Bourbon and listen to keyboard king Willie "The Lion" Smith. Fortunately for Sylvia Sims, Mae caught her act onstage there, too. Mae West gave her the part of Flo the Shoplifter in a Broadway revival of Diamond Lil.
• • Thanks to this big break and the exposure Mae West afforded her, Sylvia Syms appeared on the stage as Bloody Mary in South Pacific and as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! — — and also acted in straight roles.
• • Among others who observed her in night spots was Frank Sinatra who considered her the "world's greatest saloon singer." Sinatra conducted her album "Syms by Sinatra" [1982].
• • Signed to Decca Records, she had a million-selling record in 1956 with an up-tempo version of "I Could Have Danced All Night" from the soundtrack of My Fair Lady. It was her one mega hit.
• • In a nightclub career that spanned 51 years, the New York rooms in which she performed included Bon Soir [on West 8th Street], Ruban Bleu, The Living Room, Village Vanguard [on Seventh Avenue], Cafe Carlyle, Freddy's, Michael's Pub, The Cookery [on East 8th Street], Marty's, and Eighty-Eight's [on West 10th Street].
• • She died on stage at age 74 in New York City from a heart attack.
• • Her New York Times obituary said: "With her deep, grainy contralto, I've-been-through-it-all air of sophistication, and sinuous phrasing that echoed her idol, Billie Holiday, Miss Syms was a quintessential saloon singer, a term she said she preferred to cabaret singer. In the saloon tradition of Mr. Sinatra, she treated everything she sang as an intimate personal communication."
• • Times staffer Stephen Holden wrote: "When you perform it's a one-to-one love affair with the people out there," she once said. "That's how it has to be."
• • On Sunday 17 August 2008, during the "Mae West's Walk on the Wild Side" walking tour, the group will visit the Cinderella Club and "I Could Have Danced All Night" will be sung live by a vivacious actress, a native New Yorker who has performed in many musicals.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo:
• • Mae West's protege • •
Sylvia Syms • •

Mae West.

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