Sylvia Syms Biography

Sylvia Blagman, 2 December 1917, Brooklyn, USA, d. 10 May 1992, New York City, New York, USA. One of America’s most distinguished cabaret and jazz singers with a profound appreciation of lyrics, Syms overcame polio as a child, and in her teens discovered the delights of jazz in the clubs of New York’s 52nd Street. Inspired and informally trained by Billie Holiday, she made her singing debut in 1941 at Kelly’s Stable, and in 1948 was spotted while performing at the Cinderella Club in Greenwich Village by Mae West, who gave her the part of Flo the Shoplifter in a revival of Diamond Lil. She subsequently appeared in the regional theatre on many occasions as Bloody Mary in South Pacific and as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!, and also acted in straight roles. 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 My Fair Lady, and enjoyed further success with ‘English Muffins And Irish Stew’ and ‘It’s Good To Be Alive’.

Frank Sinatra called her the ‘Buddha’ on account of her short ‘beer barrel’ stature, but he was one of her greatest admirers, hailing her as ‘the best saloon singer in the world’. He also produced her 1982 album Syms By Sinatra. In the late 80s and early 90s, Syms still performed occasionally at intimate venues such as Eighty Eight’s, Michael’s Pub, and Freddy’s in New York, where sensitive audiences thrilled to her tasteful selections, which included such delights as ‘Skylark’, ‘You Are Not My First Love’, ‘I Want To Be Yours’, ‘Fun To Be Fooled’, ‘I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry’, ‘It Amazes Me’, and ‘Pink Taffeta’. She died of a heart attack while performing a tribute programme to Frank Sinatra in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.