Dick Merrick

Photo of Dick Merrick

Vocalist Dick Merrick sang with a variety of bands in the 1940s. The son of an Italian immigrant father, Merrick got his first break in front of the mic at age 16 when the band he played in needed a singer. By mid-1941, he was singing with Jerry Wald’s orchestra. He left in November 1942 to sing for the McFarland Twins but was back with Wald in May 1943, where stayed for three years, recording several songs with the group, including “Laura” in 1945, his most notable tune.

In early 1946, rumors romantically linked Merrick, once described in a review as “balding” and “muscular,” with fellow Wald vocalist Kay Allen. The pair married in December of that year.[1] Both had left Wald by that time, with Merrick joining Bobby Byrne in April 1946. By October he was part of George Paxton’s band. Facing heavy losses and debts, Paxton reorganized in May 1947. Merrick initially remained but soon left. He quickly found work with Wald again, traveling to Texas to join the clarinetist’s band.

Merrick’s reunion with Wald did not go well however. The two men had a falling out in June. According to Merrick, Wald “blew his top” when the singer gave notice that he was leaving the band over differences in vocal interpretations. “Jerry wanted intimate Tormé stuff and I’m an Eberly type,” said Merrick. While Merrick was on the bandstand in Galveston, Texas, singing one of his numbers, Wald accused him of fooling around excessively and ordered him off the stage and out of the building. Merrick denied the accusation and went back to the dressing room. When Wald found him there, he exploded and, in Merrick’s words, “jumped on me, tore my shirt and sent me home…with a half week’s pay and no carfare.”

Wald denied that the incident in the dressing room had taken place. Both men claimed that the “boys in the band” had seen everything and would back them up. “Dick Merrick caused dissension in the band, kibitzed around on the stand and made nothing but trouble,” said Wald, who contended that Merrick had been upset since the time of his arrival and was anxious to go home to his wife. Merrick filed charges against Wald with the American Guild of Variety Artists, the vocalists’ union, seeking $88 for transportation from Galveston back to New York.[2] Paxton, in the meantime, had scrapped his reorganized band and put together another new outfit, with Merrick slated to return. When the incident in Galveston occurred, Merrick had two days left on his notice with Wald before he would rejoin Paxton. He remained with Paxton until 1949, when the leader disbanded for good.[3]

Post-Band Career

Merrick and Allen had a son in September 1948. After Paxton disbanded, the couple settled in Allen’s hometown of Philadelphia, where they appeared on local television programs. In early 1950, the couple recorded together on the Admiral label. In August of that year, Merrick signed with Capitol Records as a solo artist, and in 1954 he sang for the BBS label. He recorded more than 50 songs in his career but never quite managed a big hit, a fact he lamented in a 1981 interview. “I always wanted a hit record. I came close but never could get it,” he said. “Just that one.”

Merrick continued singing throughout the 1950s, ending up on the nightclub circuit. He quit show business in 1962 and moved to Florida, where his father lived, taking a position as Director of Activities at the Carillon Hotel in Miami Beach, which involved singing and hosting in the hotel’s Tambourine Room. In 1969, he became social director at the Versailles Hotel, remaining there into the 1980s. Dick Merrick passed away in 1995 at the age of 75.

Notes

  1. Kay Allen would later change her working name to “Cathy” Allen while singing for Louis Prima. ↩︎

  2. Union rules required bandleaders to provide transportation home to any member of their band that was fired or let go while on the road. This prevented musicians and singers from finding themselves abandoned in the middle of nowhere without the means to buy train or bus tickets home. ↩︎

  3. The incident with Wald and Merrick was the lead story in Down Beat magazine for July 2, 1947. ↩︎

Sources

  1. “Wald Boosts Band for His Ohio Booking.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1941: 13.
  2. “Vaudeville Reviews: State, New York.” Billboard 2 Jan. 1943: 74.
  3. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 8 May 1943: 23.
  4. “Vaudeville Reviews: Loew's State, New York.” Billboard 29 Dec. 1945: 36.
  5. Kilgallen, Dorothy. “The Voice of Broadway.” Toledo Blade 7 Jan. 1946: n.p.
  6. “Music as Written.” Billboard 20 Apr. 1946: 26.
  7. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 22 Apr. 1946: 1.
  8. Wilson, Earl. “Feet Edson Tells of Good Old Days.” The Miami News 16 Oct. 1946: 11B.
  9. “Record Reviews and Possibilities.” Billboard 11 Jan. 1947: 31.
  10. “Music as Written.” Billboard 26 Apr. 1947: 23.
  11. Ronan, Eddie. “George Paxton Tries Something New In Instrumentation, Voicing.” Down Beat 18 Jun. 1947: 9.
  12. “Wald Tore My Shirt—Says Singer.” Down Beat 2 Jul. 1947: 1.
  13. “Music As Written.” Billboard 9 Oct. 1948: 25.
  14. “New Numbers.” Down Beat 3 Nov. 1948: 10.
  15. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 12 Feb. 1949: 106.
  16. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 3 Jun. 1950: 117.
  17. “Music as Written.” Billboard 5 Aug. 1950: 14.
  18. “Brookhauser Does a Solid Philadelphia Ed Sullivan.” Billboard 17 Feb. 1951: 8.
  19. Advertising. Billboard 1 May 1954: 29.
  20. “'Round Town Today.” The Miami News 17 Jan. 1959: 6A.
  21. “Show Scene.” The Miami News 2 May 1962: 5B.
  22. Marcus, Jane L. “Former Singer Enjoys His Role as Versailles Social Director.” The Miami News 3 Jun. 1981: Beaches 1.
  23. “United States Census, 1920,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MJP8-7N7 : Fri Dec 08 03:08:27 UTC 2023), Entry for Frank Ricciardi and Albina Ricciardi, 1920.
  24. “United States Census, 1940,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KQMF-FJ2 : Tue Nov 28 17:18:16 UTC 2023), Entry for Frank Ricciardi and Albini Ricciardi, 1940.
  25. “Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q28G-1F6H : Sun Oct 15 16:53:58 UTC 2023), Entry for Louis A Ricciardi and Chatherine M Elenteis Elentrio Zappasodi, 30 Nov 1946.
  26. “Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q28G-18DT : Sun Oct 15 15:50:58 UTC 2023), Entry for Louis A Ricciardi and Catherine M Elentrio Zappasodi, 3 Dec 1946.
  27. “United States, Social Security Numerical Identification Files (NUMIDENT), 1936-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6KMR-XLKD : 10 February 2023), Dick Merrick.