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Ted Fiorito: The Newark Son of Italian Immigrants who Became One of Greats of American Music

By Nat Bodian

        One of America's truly musical 'greats' of the Jazz age and the Big Band Era was the Newark son of Italian immigrants -- Ted Fiorito -- who through half a century of professional life achieved success and fame across a broad spectrum of the entertainment world ... as composer ... recording artist ... band leader ... actor ... and radio and television entertainer.

        His song compositions were sung by the greatest stars of show business, and were featured in numerous Hollywood films, starting with Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor.

        He provided starts to young female vocalists who later went on to stardom on the Hollywood screen, and he employed many musicians who themselves became big names during the Big Band era.

        His enduring fame is ensured by his enshrinement in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  He was inducted with the 1970 Class of Inductees that also included such other music greats as Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, Stephen Foster, Ferde Grofe, Oscar Hammerstein II, W. C. Handy, Victor Herbert, Scott Joplin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Billy Rose, and John Phillip Souza.


His Newark Birth and Roots

        Ted Fiorito was born on December 20, 1900 to a young Italian immigrant couple, Louis (Luigi) Fiorito and Eugenia Cantalupo Fiorito, both 21 years old.

        He was delivered by a midwife at their residence at 293 15th Avenue.

        In the 1900 Newark birth records, his name was entered as Teodorico Salvatore Fiorito.  His father's occupation was listed in the 1900 City records as a tailor.  He was the first child of the marriage.

        Prior to the birth of their son, the Fioritos boarded with a brother of Eugenia, in the 14th Ward of Newark.

        By the time Ted had reached high school age in 1914, the family was living at 185 Bruce Street, and his ASCAP bio shows that he was 'educated at Barringer High School'.

        The Barringer High alumni records do not go back to Fiorito's years at Barringer, so there is no indication of whether he ever graduated.


Entrance Into and Life in World of Music

        Somewhere during his early teens, Fiorito became an accomplished piano player.  In 1919, with the shellac barely dried on the earliest recorded jazz, at the age of 18, he was already employed in Tin Pan Alley.  His first job was as a pianist in the recording studios of Columbia records in New York city.

        Fiorito worked with the bands of Harry Yerkes--the Yerkes Novelty Five, Yerkes Jazarimba Orchestra, and The Happy Six.

        Within a year after his start, at the age of 19, he had already begun to compose music and Fiorito's name began to circulate in Tim Pan Alley as an up-and-coming composer with some of his early works recorded by the several Yerkes bands and also the band of Art Highman.


Achieves Songwriting Fame in 1922

        Still not old enough to vote in 1922, Fiorito achieved songwriting fame and acclaim when one of his compositions "Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye" was recorded by Al Jolson, a leading star of the era, and became one of the anthems of the 1920s.

        That success would be followed during Fiorito's long and successful career by more than 100 additional songs.  Among them were "Charley My Boy", popularized by Eddie Cantor, "Roll Along Prairie Moon", "I Never Knew", "Rio Rita" and "When the Moon Hangs High."

        He also co-wrote with Ted Lewis, "the high-hatted tragedian of jazz," the song "King for a Day" which Lewis favored in his vaudeville and nightclub routines.  I still own, and occasionally play, the Decca record which carries that song.


Joins Orchestra and Becomes Band Leader

        Fiorito abandoned Tin Pan Alley in 1921 and moved to Chicago to join the Oriole Orchestra, then directed by Dan Russo.

        With his versatile keyboarding, both on piano and Hammond Organ, he became the band co-leader and the band name was changed to the Russo-Fiorito Band.  When Russo left the band in 1928, Fiorito took over as the sole leader.

        The band then moved to the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco and gained wide recognition from 'name' hotel appearances and on syndicated and network radio programs broadcast from coast to coast.


Provide Exposure to Future Stars

        Fiorito enjoyed a long career as musician, composer, band leader, and actor.  His numerous film appearances provided exposure for many future film stars and music 'greats' that included Ted Lewis, Nick Lucas, Dick Powell, Russ Morgan, Louis Belson, Buddy DeFranco, Doc Severson, Betty Grable, June Haver, Kay Swingle, Lucille Ball, Ruth Lee, and Leif Erickson.


Last Years, Death, and Burial

        In the 1950s and 1960s, as his fame began to diminish, Fiorito led bands in Chicago and Arizona, with occasional stints in Las Vegas.  In the final decade of his life, he led a small combo of five or six members at venues throughout California and Nevada until the time of his death on July 22, 1971.

        He died of a heart attack.

        Fiorito is buried in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery on Stranwood Avenue in the Mission Hills community of Northern Los Angeles.

        He is buried in the same cemetery as such other entertainment world notables as Bob Hope, Chuck Connors, Walter Brennan, George Gobel, William Frawley, Ed Begley, and Penny Singleton.


Ted Fiorito: Film Appearances

1933:    Sweetheart of Sigma Chi
            (as Ted Fiorito, with his Orchestra)

1934:    Young and Beautiful
            (with his Orchestra)

            What Price Jazz

            Twenty Million Sweethearts
            (as Ted Fiorito, himself: bandleader and pianist)

1935:    Every Night at Eight
            (as Ted Fiorito, himself...and his Orchestra)

            Broadway Gondolier
            (as Ted Fiorito...and as Bandleader Ted Fiorito)

1939:    Sea Melody
            (as Ted Fiorito himself, and as leader of Fiorito Band)

1941:    Skyline Serenade
            (as Ted Fiorito himself, and as leader of Fiorito Orchestra)

1942:    Rhythm Parade
            (as Ted Fiorito himself, and as leader of Fiorito Orchestra)

            Chasing the Blues
            (as Ted Fiorito himself, and as leader of Fiorito Orchestra)

1943:    Melody Parade
            (as Ted Fiorito himself, and with his Orchestra)

            Silver Skates
            (as Ted Fiorito himself, and as leader of Fiorito Orchestra)

1945:    Synco-Smooth Swing
            (as Ted Fiorito himself, and as leader of Fiorito Orchestra)

            Out of This World
            (as Ted Fiorito himself, and as Fiorito Band Leader)

1949:    Ted Fiorito Orchestra (film)
            (with Ted Fiorito as himself)


Fiorito Songs/Music Used in Films

Film Year Fiorito Song
Words and Music 1931 "Now That You're Gone
Blondie of the Follies 1932 songs
What Price Jazz 1934 additional music
Young and Beautiful 1934  
Every Night at Eight 1935 song
Here Comes the Band 1935 "Tender is the Night"
Song of the Saddle 1936 "Underneath the Western Sky"
I'll See You in My Dreams 1951 "Toot Toot Tootsie, Goodbye," and "No, No, Nora"
Remains of the Day 1993 "Roll Along Prairie Moon"
Cat's Meow 2001 "Toot Toot Tootsie, Goodbye"


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