With more than 11 million YouTube views of her Bossa Nova duet with Dean Martin of the mid 60ies, Singer , guitarist and dancer Caterina Valente has been rediscovered by the digital generation.
Many have spoken about her, often too much, far too often without knowing anything about her, and way too often without knowing her at all! So here is a definite resumé of her remarkable career.
Born in Paris 14th Jan. 1931, Caterina is the 4th Child of Maria and Giuseppe Valente. Both, exceptionally talented Italians. Father Giuseppe is one of the most accomplished accordion players, who was the first to record classical music on this instrument in Sweden and even performed for the Zar in Russia.
His wife Maria, a virtuoso musician (she played 33 instruments) and gifted ballet dancer is one of Vaudevilles brightest stars in Europe and the Americas. Her musical comedy act made her a Top Star in all the main theaters including The Palace in NY.
On January 5th 1936 Caterina joined the family act in Stuttgart, dancing a gavotte and singing a French children song “Papa n’a pas voulu”. She was hooked , and with her 3 siblings became integral part of her Mothers Act and the Family’s 7th generation in Show business.
After the struggles of the 2nd world war, the Valentes who resided in France, survived deportation to Italy, the Bombing of Breslau and Russian imprisonment to finally return to Paris where Maria Valente and her act got immediately signed to perform at the OLYMPIA. This gave the family to possibility to restart after having lost everything.
In the late 40ies, although still being part of the Family Act touring all of Europe, Caterina and her brother Silvio started venturing out to do their own thing. In this endeavor they got together with a then also struggling singer songwriter by the name of Gilbert Becaud. They were not successful except for brother Silvio who was at the top of the polls in Sweden as best Jazz Clarinetist.
By 1952 Caterina had left the Family act, got married and toured the USO Clubs in Europe and North Africa with her Juggler/Drummer husband. In 1953 the Juggling Drummer was part of the bill of the Circus Grock Swiss Tour . The famous Clown Grock, who was a close friend of the Valente Family, had asked Caterina to perform her act and be part of the program. After initial misgivings (who had ever seen a Singer/Dancer as a circus act?), Caterina gave in with the condition that if it wasn’t a success she would stop immediately. Successful it was , to the point that the Director of Radio Zurich invited her to a recording session where Caterina recorded a handful of songs accompanying her self on all instruments. Caterina’s husband sent the tapes to all the major Radio Stations in Germany which got Caterina an audition at the Radio in Baden Baden for Jazz Band Leader Kurt Edelhagen , who after the audition claimed- he had found the most musical woman in the world.
Caterina declined the invitation to become the band’s singer but gladly accepted to collaborate on various projects.
Hence the first record: a Jazz/Swing version of Istanbul in English. A Flop!
Her Second recording: A novelty song in a Latin Style imitation arrangement sung in German called “O mama O mamajo” seemed to be liked by German Audiences.
The third recording, Cole Porter’s “I love Paris” in German (Ganz Paris träumt von der Liebe) becomes a mega hit in German speaking countries, with more than 500’000 copies sold, which for 1954 is unheard of.
At the same time she records Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s Malaguena, again in German with an unsuccessful release in central Europe. But the record gets a successful spin on American radio and low and behold becomes a major hit.
Her debut as a film actress was in 1954 with a small role as a singer in the thriller “They Were So Young”. This was followed by leading roles in box office musical film hits such as “Liebe, Tanz und 1000 Schlager” (1955) with Peter Alexander and “Casino de Paris “(1957) with Vittorio de Sica and her childhood friend Gilbert Bécaud
The roles she played were mostly the goody-two-shoes-girl-next-door kind of characters, with trivial novelty songs that became big record hits. This image would never leave her for the rest of her career in German speaking countries although in 1962 she decided not to pursue an acting career.
In April 1955 she appeared, for the first time, on American Television, coast to coast, as a guest star on The Colgate Comedy Hour hosted by Gordon MacRae. This was followed by a guest spot on the Jukebox Jury Show to present what would become, as foreseen on that same show by Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme, one of her biggest hit records “The Breeze and I”.
By 1956, Caterina had released a number of singles and extended plays in various languages. Her 1st LP, the Spanish sung Ole Caterina, on which she and her brother sing and play all the instruments, garnered her “The Estrella Del Mes Award” by Notas Musicales in Mexico.
In 1957 Caterina played her first US month-long night club date in the Cotillion Room at New York’s Pierre Hotel and hosted the 1st personality TV variety show series on German television called “Bonsoir Kathrin”.
By the end of the decade she had recorded the successful jazz album “Plenty Valente” with arrangements by Sy Oliver, appeared on the Patti Page Show and Walter Winchell Show in the USA, conquered Paris audiences with her 3 week run at the legendary Olympia Theatre, returned to Italy after 20 years of absence as an international star for a guest appearance on the TV show “Il Musichiere” and received a Grammy award nomination as best female vocalist.
The next decade started with a change of record label and she signed with Teldec for international releases in 11 languages. In France she was awarded the Grand Prix du disque for “Bim Bom Bey”, had a no.1 hit in Germany with the German cover of “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini“. In Italy “Till” and Personalita” (that is both the a and b sides singularly) got certified gold, and “Fire and Frenzy”, the first of two Latin albums she recorded with Edmundo Ros, received the Brazilian Media award “O Globo” as well as the “Premio Della Crititia Discografica Italiana”
The All star festival LP for UNICEF of 1963, was the first charity album ever. It included recordings by such luminaries as Bing Crosby, Louis Armstong, Doris Day, Nat King Cole, Edith Piaf, Nana Mouskouri and Caterina Valente. The album went gold, selling over a million copies.
With the arrival of the Beatles and the British invasion etc., Caterina’s recording career slowed down, which could not be said of her presence on the international concert and TV circuit.
After a successful South American Tour in 61 in which Caterina had the great pleasure of befriending the creators of the Bossa Nova, like Joao Gilberto, Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim, she returned to New York to record the second of her many guest appearances on the Perry Como show (Kraft Music Hall) . It was in this precise show that Caterina performed “Corcovado”, and in so doing, she became the first to introduce the Bossa Nova to American TV audiences.
Guest appearances in the USA on “The Bing Crosby Show”, 4 times on “The Danny Kaye Show”, “The Gary Moore show” and hosting “The Hollywood Palace Show” followed.
In 1961 “Bonsoir Caterina” a prime time 9 episodes personality show ran live on RAI UNO Italy’s national TV channel. The following year “Nata per la musica” 12 prime-time episodes opened the new RAI DUE, Italy’s 2nd national TV channel.
It’s April 1964 and Caterina makes her Las Vegas debut at the Desert Inn. A triumph! Six more times her name would head the billboards of the entertainment mecca, for very successful one- month long main-room engagements.
The “Caterina Valente International” TV Special was being filmed in Brussels while in Venice, Italy European critics were awarding Joan Sutherland, Zizi Jeanmaire, Yves Montand and Caterina Valente with the “Euro Premio” for their television work.
“The Entertainers”, a one-hour variety show which aired on CBS from September 1964 to March 1965, starred Caterina, with Carol Burnett and Bob Newhart as co-hosts. Rewarded for her work, Caterina received the Fame Award as best female vocalist on American television.
Germany also recognized Caterina’s television achievements by awarding her the “Goldene Kamera” in 1965.
The YouTube hit of Dean Martin and Caterina’s duet is from 1966 and was the second of 9 guest appearances on the “Dean Martin Show”, the last one being in 1971.
“Die Caterina Valente Show”, 8 TV specials for German television channel, ZDF and the Netherlands channel AVRO Television, aired from 1966 until early 1968. That year Caterina was the first pop music entertainer to receive the “German Cross of Merit (Verdienstkreuz am Bande)”.
The “Caterina from Heidelberg Special” first aired on CBS on 1968 and was seen by 50 million US viewers. In January 1969, 3 TV specials of “Bentornata Caterina” were taped in Rome for the Italian TV channel, RAI 1.
In order to prepare for a German tour in the fall of 1969, Caterina declined the invitation to take over the “Dean Martin Show” for the summer season. Rumored by the Press as a flop, the Tour was sold out and a huge success with audiences . The same could not be said about the critics who were deeply divided. Half considered Caterina’s Show too American , others saw it as being too clichéd.
Caterina’s concert and club tours in the 60s took her to the USA, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Japan and South Africa
Although Caterina had appeared in numerous British TV shows including those with names such as Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Rolf Harris, David Frost among many others, and the BBC had aired The Heidelberg Special twice, it was in 1970 that Caterina finally made her UK stage debut appearing at the famed “Talk of the Town” to overwhelming critical acclaim, earning her an invitation to perform at the Royal Variety Show that same year. Following the Royal Command Performance, Caterina was, once again, a guest on Italian TV where she performed the now legendary vocal arrangement written for her by Gianni Ferrio, of the Moto Perpetuo by Paganini.
Another successful 2 week passage followed for Caterina Valente at The Olympia Theatre in Paris where Maurice Chevalier appeared as a surprise guest at one of her shows.
After an American Club tour in 1971, Caterina was invited to a cultural exchange between Germany and the Soviet Union, as it was known then. Famed Soviet violinist David Oistrakh would tour Germany, while Caterina would play concerts in Leningrad, Kiev and Moscow.
Throughout the years Oscar winning composer Michel Legrand and Caterina have collaborated on different projects on TV and radio but their 18 concerts at the Olympia in Paris in January 1972 became a highlight in both of their careers, especially for Michel, as it was the first time he would appear on stage introduced as a singer.
By 1973 Caterina expressed the wish to retire completely from show business, ending her career with a benefit concert for the Sport in Zurich Switzerland. She ended her contracts with her management, agency and record company. This did not hinder the French to bestow here with the cross of merit “Officier de l’education artistique” among other recipients like Zizi Jeanmaire and Henri Verneuil.
Caterina’s wish to retire did not come true, however, and she picked up where she left off with a 1974 Christmas TV Special for German television and signed an exclusive German language record contract with EMI who paired her with the producer, composer, and lyricist team of her hits in the 50ies. With the first single “Wo die Musikanten sind” an Oktoberfest-like ode to musicians, she had returned, after 13 years, to the top 10 German Hit-parade. Another Top 10 song in Germany would be “Manuel” in 1978, a pseudo reggae with a critical view of how the business of record companies used talented children.
Meanwhile Caterina returned to North America for multiple concert tours in the US and Canada with bands like Woody Herman & Thundering Herds, Buddy Rich, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra as well as co-starring with Jerry Vale and Sergio Franchi.
A 3 LP deal with PYE Records, includes the “Live Concert Album” taken from the filmed concert of her month-long engagement at the Talk of the Town in London in 1975 which successfully aired on TV, worldwide.
6 Concerts at the Olympia in Paris 1976 are the last stage appearance by Caterina in France. After the passing of Olympia Patron and very close Family Friend Bruno Coquatrix in 1979 she declines all offers to appear in her country of birth.
In the 70s Caterina toured and played the USA, South Africa, UK, Australia, Japan , France and appeared in TV variety shows and TV personality specials in Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, Sweden, Spain and France. In Brazil, she hosted a 2 part documentary about their music.
The Beginning of the 1980s witnessed Caterina Valente making some drastic career changes. Not being entirely happy with most of the material recorded for EMI, she did not renew her recording contract but, instead, opted for short term or single-project contracts only. On top of that, she declined further proposals that would keep her away from home for more than a month at a time. Nonetheless, between 1982 and 1983 she taped 8 Live 90min. TV specials for the Austrian TV Channel ORF and embarked in 1985 on a 7 city tour thru East Germany, which was, at the time, still the German Democratic Republic. The reactions of audiences and critics were spectacular!
In the autumn of ‘85, Caterina recorded the album, Valente 86, with Thad Jones and The Count Basie Orchestra at Criteria Studios which was a live-set recording in English. Later she re-recorded her parts in German. The album was released in 1986 in both versions, to critical acclaim.
In December the “50 Years on Stage Jubilee” TV special, BRAVO CATRIN, was taped in Stuttgart. Well wishers included Perry Como, Paul Anka, Henry Mancini, Nana Mouskouri, Gilbert Becaud, Peter Alexander, Udo Jürgens, The Kessler Twins and many more. “The Special” aired on Januray 5th 1986, exactly 50 years after Caterina’s first stage appearance in the same city, with more than 16 million viewers in Central Europe. During the show it was announced that Caterina would be bestowed with the German Officer’s Cross (Verdienstkreuz 1. Klasse), especially for her charity work.
In April ‘86 she embarked on a 12 city tour in Central Europe with The Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Thad Jones. The tour was received enthusiastically, although there were still some disgruntled fans who disliked the fact that Caterina, according to them, either sang too much in German, or sang too much in English.
In 1987 Caterina played her last concert in the USA at the Hollywood Bowl and by the end of 1988 she was preparing for a short term and well received residence at Theater des Westens in Berlin with the one-woman show, Ich Bin Noch Da!
Despite having decided in the early 70s not to work in Italy due to the frequent peculiar interpretation of signed contracts by the promisors, Caterina always answered a friends call for help. Her appearances for “Una Rosa Per La Vita” Cancer research benefit galas organized by Delia Scala and Dr. Umberto Veronesi were considered triumphal comebacks. The same could be said for her acclaimed guest appearance on the TV Show “Premiatissima” in 1986, hosted by another friend singer/actor Johnny Dorelli .
In 1989 Alfredo Rossi, founder of the Ariston Publishing catalogue invited Caterina, with whom she had been friends since the early 60s, to join him in compiling a jazz album of songs from his catalogue. She also accepted the request to promote the Album called “A Briglia Sciolta” in Italy, only to be reminded of why she preferred to visit her beautiful homeland as a private person. However, presently, it is said that the album, under various forms of reissues, is Caterina’s best-selling CD worldwide.
Concert appearances, in the 80s, took Caterina to Canada, Australia, Germany, USA, UK, and there were TV appearances in Brazil, Germany, Austria, Italy, United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland.
Caterina Valente surpassed everyone with her knowledge of The Biz and consequently, in the early 1990s, she contractually required that she be only credited as the vocalist, and not the star, of The “Kurt Weil: American Songs” and the “Manhattan” projects in Germany. In so doing, she provided these 2 productions comprising a handful of concerts each, the chance to be successful on their own merit, and not be regarded as a “Valente vehicle”. The concept, arrangements and masterful piano playing were by Oscar and Grammy nominated Roger Kellaway and the orchestra, non other than the Grammy winning WDR Big Band. Needless to say, both projects were extremely successful and for once no one lamented the fact that Caterina only sang in English.
By 1996 Caterina had decided to slowly start retiring from The Business without much fanfare; in fact her last concert took place, that year, at the opera in Leipzig Germany. A few more TV appearances here and there and then in 1999 Caterina Valente recorded her final CD, “Girltalk”, which ended with a new recording of the very first song she had ever sung, “Papa n’a pas voulu”
In 2001, at the age of 70, she hosted a retrospective TV special of her career entitled “Portrait in Music” for ORF Television Austria, in which she performed 2 songs from the “Girltak “album. This would be her last appearance as a singer- entertainer, with the exception of a surprise singing cameo appearance on the “Paolo Limiti Show” on Rai Due television channel in Italy in 2003.
Satisfied with all she was lucky enough to have accomplished, Caterina Valente now enjoys her privacy to the fullest.