Skip Nelson

Photo of Skip Nelson

Singer Skip Nelson had the world handed to him on a silver platter three times during the 1940s, but he never had the luck to hold onto it. Though Nelson’s voice featured on hit songs for Glenn Miller and Guy Lombardo, he failed to find a musical home, and he bounced around between bands during the first half of the decade, trying several times to break out on his own and striking out on each occasion. By 1947, he had given up and settled in Pittsburgh, where he remained popular on local radio and television into the mid-1950s.

Born Scipione Mirabella in Naples, Italy, Nelson immigrated to the United States with his family in 1929. Settling in Brooklyn, Nelson’s father worked a drummer in 1940, with Nelson himself employed as an usher at a movie theater that same year. By January 1941, Nelson had made his way to Pittsburgh, broke and looking for band work.[1] A skilled pianist as well as a vocalist, he landed a job with local orchestra leader Benny Burton, who also staked him a hotel room. He left Burton for another Pittsburgh band led by Joey Sims in December 1941, where he remained until at least mid-February 1942. He also appeared on local radio.

Nelson was singing with Piccolo Pete at Pittsburgh’s Ritz Hotel in March 1942 when Chico Marx tapped him as vocalist to replace the departing Ziggy Lane. Back in New York once again, Nelson sang and recorded with Marx for the next two months, attracting the attention of Glenn Miller, who hired him away in June 1942 to take over for the recently-fired Ray Eberle. Nelson’s prospects looked bright, but his time with Miller proved short when the famous bandleader enlisted in the Army Air Force that September. When Miller disbanded a few days later, Nelson returned to Marx, where he joined a young Mel Tormé as vocalist.

Despite spending only four months with Miller, Nelson’s voice graced several of the band’s last recordings made in July as an effort to beat the American Federation of Musician’s recording ban which started at the end of that month. RCA Victor slowly released the material over a period of more than a year, allowing the public to keep buying new Miller records long after the leader had hung up his baton. It also kept Nelson’s name in the spotlight, and he earned eighth place in Billboard magazine’s 1943 college poll for best male band vocalist.

Remaining with Marx for the next six months, Nelson left in May 1943 for Tommy Dorsey, where he replaced Dick Haymes, the second time in his short career that he’d been hired to take over for a top star in a top orchestra. While with Dorsey, Nelson made his only film appearance in MGM’s Broadway Rhythm. Dorsey liked the singer enough that he survived the bandleader’s infamous purge of August 1943, in which Dorsey fired his whole orchestra. When Dorsey left New York for the West Coast in September, however, Nelson remained behind, reportedly to start a solo career, represented by former bandleader Ben Pollack, who also handled Marx.[2]

By November, Nelson had joined Raymond Scott’s CBS orchestra, where he stayed only briefly before becoming part of Guy Lombardo’s band. As vocalist on Lombardo’s 1944 top ten hit “It’s Love Love Love,” he once again found himself on the charts but unable to capitalize on it, as Lombardo felt that he overpowered the band and didn’t keep him on. Nelson then found a home with Teddy Powell’s orchestra, where he had settled in by February 1944, a job that ended only a few short months later when Powell was arrested on draft evasion charges in mid-July.

Nelson joined Glen Gray’s orchestra in mid-1944, making a soundie with the band, “A Friend of Yours,” on Filmcraft later that year. Gray’s famous Casa Loma Orchestra was only a shell of what it once had been, though, and the position did little to further Nelson’s career. He left Gray in January 1946 to go solo again, singing at Hollywood’s Trocadero that summer and recording with Hal Brooks’ band. He finally gave up and returned to Pittsburgh, where early 1947 found him as part of the house act at the Mercur Music Bar, singing for pianist Erroll Garner.

Settling down in Pittsburgh with his family, Nelson remained a popular local singer over the next few years, earning his own afternoon television program on WDTV in 1951. By 1954, he had moved to Florida, where he continued to sing as well as sell used cars. Skip Nelson passed away in 1974.


  1. Nelson married Mary Battillo in Pittsburgh in January 1941. ↩︎

  2. The exact circumstances of Nelson’s departure from Dorsey is unknown, though Down Beat gossip columnist Dian Manners reported that Nelson was set to receive two hundred dollars a week from Dorsey until he signed with another band, which most likely meant that Dorsey had released him with time still left on his contract. That would also indicate that Nelson was paid that amount as a salary, which was very high for a band vocalist. ↩︎


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “Skip Nelson.” IMDb. Accessed 20 Jul. 2016.
  3. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 20 Jul. 2016.
  4. Johnson, Vincent. “Pittsburgh Symphony Heard Again on FM, Standard Broadcast Bands.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 Dec. 1941: n.p.
  5. “Marx Will Open Own Spot.” Billboard 4 Apr. 1942: 25.
  6. Humes, Ted. “25 Gees for Pollack Out Of Marx Ork.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1942: 20.
  7. “On the Records.” Billboard 20 Jun. 1942: 68.
  8. “Miller Figures 25G in Buffalo.” Billboard 1 Aug. 1942: 18.
  9. “Arden Crew Aids Cause.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1942: 18.
  10. “Miller in Army.” Billboard 19 Sep. 1942: 20.
  11. “Men All Scatter As Miller Joins.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1942: 4.
  12. “Nelson Back with Chico.” Billboard 3 Oct. 1942: 21.
  13. “Bands Dug by the Beat: Chico Marx.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1942: 12.
  14. “Night Club Reviews: Blackhawk Cafe, Chicago.” Billboard 28 Nov. 1942: 18.
  15. “Night Club Reviews: Blackhawk Cafe, Chicago.” Billboard 2 Jan. 1943: 68.
  16. “Vaudeville Reviews: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard 6 Feb. 1943: 16.
  17. “Marx, Hawkins Find Philly Fat.” Billboard 27 Mar. 1943: 15.
  18. “Vaudeville Reviews: Roxy, New York.” Billboard 3 Apr. 1943: 14.
  19. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 8 May 1943: 23.
  20. “On the Stand: Tommy Dorsey.” Billboard 29 May 1943: 29.
  21. “Students Select Singers.” Billboard 5 Jun. 1943: 20.
  22. “Dead Weight Cut Seen in Dorsey Ork Notice Move.” Billboard 14 Aug. 1943: 13.
  23. “TD Holds Eight Sidemen From Band on Coast.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1943: 1.
  24. Manners, Dian. “Men, Maids and Manners.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1943: 9.
  25. Advertisement. “Ben Pollack's Starmaker Orchestra Service.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1943: 17.
  26. “Scott Gets Ott On Initial Kick.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1943: 2.
  27. “Skip Nelson Singles.” Billboard 6 Nov. 1943: 24.
  28. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1944: 5.
  29. “Popular Record Reviews.” Billboard 11 Mar. 1944: 21.
  30. “Bands Dug by the Beat: Teddy Powell.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1944: 4.
  31. “On the Stand: Teddy Powell.” Billboard 1 Jul. 1944: 15.
  32. “Teddy Powell Held On Draft-Evasion Charge.” Billboard 22 Jul. 1944: 17.
  33. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 7 Aug. 1945: 66.
  34. “Vaudeville Reviews: Golden Gate, San Francisco.” Billboard 29 Sep. 1945: 35.
  35. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 20 Oct. 1945: 76.
  36. “Vaudeville Reviews: Chicago, Chicago.” Billboard 17 Nov. 1945: 35.
  37. “Music As Written.” Billboard 19 Jan. 1946: 18.
  38. “Music As Written.” Billboard 15 Jun. 1946: 25.
  39. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 20 Jul. 1946: 31.
  40. “Send Birthday Greetings to.” Down Beat 29 Jul. 1946: 19.
  41. “We Found.” Down Beat 29 Jul. 1946: 19.
  42. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 14 Sep. 1946: 32.
  43. Cohen, Harold. “The Drama Desk.” Billboard 24 Mar. 1947: 14.
  44. “Biz Steps Up After Bad Drop in Pittsburgh.” Billboard 13 Sep. 1947: 37.
  45. Danver, Charles F. “Pittsburghesque.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 21 Nov. 1947: n.p.
  46. “'Skip' Nelson Tops West View Bill.” The Pittsburgh Press 5 Jun. 1949: 66.
  47. Advertisement. The Pittsburgh Press 9 Jul. 1951: 10.
  48. “Miami.” Down Beat 27 Jan. 1954: 16.
  49. “Benny Burton's Memories Are As Mellow As a Favorite Melody.” The Pittsburgh Press 9 Aug. 1985: D2.
  50. Piroli, Gino. “Local Singer Fit Mood of Miller Band.” Beaver County Times [Beaver, Pennsylvania] 11 Jun. 2001: A2.
  51. Piroli, Gino. “Nelson Started with Chico Marx Band.” Beaver County Times [Beaver, Pennsylvania] 10 Sep. 2001: A2.
  52. “New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957,” FamilySearch ( : Wed Mar 06 20:27:56 UTC 2024), Entry for Scipione Mirabella, 1929.
  53. “United States Census, 1940,” FamilySearch ( : Sat Mar 09 00:04:04 UTC 2024), Entry for Joseph Mirabella and Balbine Mirabella, 1940.
  54. “Pennsylvania, County Marriages, 1885-1950,” FamilySearch ( : Sat Mar 09 17:28:29 UTC 2024), Entry for Scipione S. Mirabella and Mary C. Battillo, 07 Jan.
  55. “Pennsylvania, World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1940-1945,” FamilySearch ( : Fri Feb 23 22:20:33 UTC 2024), Entry for Scipione Mirabella and Mary Mirabella, 16 Feb 1942.