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Known throughout his long career as “The Golden Voiced Irish Tenor,” “The Irish Troubadour,” and “The Irish Nightingale” Morton Downey was the first Irish-American superstar in the twentieth century.

Morton Downey was born on November 14, 1901 in Wallingford, Connecticut. His grandfather, John Downey, was born in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland and was Wallingford’s fire chief and tavern keeper. From as early as eight years old Morton was singing. He sang at club affairs, smokers, and church sociables. By the age of fourteen he had left school and was earning as much as four dollars per evening, which was just half of what he got for an entire week’s work at his full-time job at an insurance company. At sixteen he enlisted in the Navy but after his father notified the authorities of his age he was held in the “jug” until his folks could pick him up. After trying numerous other jobs that didn’t pan out Morton decided to devote his life to singing.

Like all aspiring entertainers on the East Coast he moved to New York and moved in with relatives in Brooklyn. A friend of these relatives got Morton a gig at the old Sheridan Square Theater in Greenwich Village where Morton was signed up for two weeks at $40 a week. It was at the Sheridan were a talent scout for the Paul Whiteman band noticed him. He then became known as the first band vocalist. Up until then vocalist were expected to play an instrument in the band. This was so unusual that he was given a dummy saxophone to look like he was part of the orchestra.

In 1926 he left the Paul Whiteman Orchestra when he was signed for Ziegfield’s Palm Beach Nights in Florida. Then he went on his own to London, Paris and Berlin and gained international stardom. In 1929 he made the movie Syncopation where he sang the hit song “I’ll Always Be in Love With You” to his co-star Barbara Bennett who would soon become his wife. He eventually made two other films but movie-making was not his style.

Radio became his claim to fame. In the 1930’s he signed with CBS. He sang for sponsors such as Camel, Woodbury and Pall Mall. He was the featured singer at the New York World’s Fair of 1939-1940 and the following year he signed with the Coca-Cola Company for a daily radio program, singing with the Raymond Paige Orchestra. Still somewhat popular on radio he appeared on TV in 1947 and in 1949 had his own show on NBC. In 1952 he signed an exclusive five-year contract with Coca-Cola that covered all of his radio and TV appearances. At the peak of his career in the middle 1930’s Morton was receiving over 95,000 fan letters a week and earning, with nightclub and theatre appearances, as much as $250,000 a year.

His successful relationship with Coca-Cola allowed him to ease out of the entertainment industry. It would lead him to eventually become president and director of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of New Haven. He became a very successful businessman and was on the boards of numerous corporations that included banks, publishing and news companies.

Morton had five children from his first wife, Barbara Bennett. He married two more times and died in October 1985 in Palm Beach, Florida. Many of you probably remember his son Morton Downey, Jr. as being America’s first “Shock Jock” on radio and TV.

According to the Mikeroscope Album & Log Book Radio Guide of 1935 “Morton likes plain foods, steaks, roast beef medium, chops, et cetera. He’s five feet nine and a half inches tall. His favorite radio entertainer is Bing Crosby. He usually wears dark clothes and solid ties. His favorite color is blue. He gets a haircut once a week. He has dark brown hair and greenish blue eyes. Next to sleep and reading comics, his favorite relaxation is driving fast cars.”

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