Ralph Young, a former big-band singer who became half of the internationally popular singing duo Sandler & Young, has died. He was 90.
Young died after a brief illness Friday at his home in Palm Springs, said his wife, Arlene.
After becoming a duo in 1965, the Belgium-born Sandler and the Bronx, New York-born Young recorded more than 20 albums, headlined in showrooms, concert halls and nightclubs and frequently appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show" and other top TV variety and talk shows.
From London in 1969, they also hosted "Kraft Music Hall Presents Sandler & Young," the summer replacement for "The Kraft Music Hall" variety show on NBC. "They were glorious years," Tony Sandler told The Times on Monday from the airport in Minneapolis, on his way to California for Young's funeral today in Palm Springs.
"They were extremely successful years," Sandler said. "We did every possible TV show; we did it all. There were ups and downs like in everything, but Ralph was my friend and a great singer, and I have the greatest admiration for him."
As performers, Sandler & Young were known for what a Times writer in 1969 called "European sophistication plus down-to-earth American comedy."
"Ralph was very humorous; he was a very funny cat, actually," said Sandler, 75, and "still very much in the business."
"There was a lot of humor in Sandler & Young. I mostly played the straight man, and he played . . . a bit of a buffoon type. And me being European was supposed to be the more suave of the pair, and Ralph was more the typical, brash American."
But it was, of course, the distinctive blending of their baritone voices that attracted audiences. Young, Sandler said, "was considered more a bass-baritone, where I'm more a baritone cantabile" -- he had a more flexible voice and a wider range, he said. "That's why I mostly harmonized with him, which created that Sandler & Young sound.
"It was just a close harmonic effect by the two baritone voices, which was unique. You can't predict something like that. When two voices click like that, it's unusual, and it's rare."
Young was born in the Bronx on July 1, 1918. He dropped out of high school to help out his family. After a stint as a messenger for Warner Bros. in New York City, he launched his singing career in small restaurants and clubs.
He had been a vocalist for the Tommy Reynolds band before joining Les Brown's Band of Renown in 1940. While with Brown, Young was vocalist on the hit record "Tis Autumn."
"Les thought the world of him," said Stumpy Brown, the late bandleader's brother and current manager of Les Brown's Band of Renown, which is led by Les Brown Jr. "He was an excellent singer."
After serving as a singer in a stateside Army band during World War II, Young sang with the Shep Fields band. In the 1950s, he was the longtime production singer at the Latin Quarter in New York, where owner Lou Walters (Barbara Walters' father) dubbed him "the king of the production singers."
During that period, he also recorded solo for Everest Records and played a leading role in the short-lived 1958 Broadway musical comedy "Whoop-Up."
Sandler and Young met in 1963 when they were both sent to Milan, Italy, to rehearse for a revue to be presented at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas.
They did the Dunes show for a year, then Sandler joined Young in New York, where they began performing as a duo in the Catskills.
"It was really going badly for us," recalled Sandler, who was contemplating returning to Europe.
But then they got a job performing in the lounge at the Sahara in Las Vegas, which led to their first break as a team.
Comedian Phil Silvers, who was headlining the main room at the Sahara, heard them rehearsing. And, Sandler recalled, Silvers "became so excited about this new act" that he spread the word with his audience and "all of a sudden we had a packed lounge."
After singer Polly Bergen saw their show one night, Sandler & Young joined Bergen's show at the Desert Inn. Engagements with Bergen at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles and at the Persian Room at the Plaza in New York followed.
The latter engagement led to Sandler & Young being hired to do their own show at the Persian Room, where, Sandler recalled, "a who's who of show business saw us, including Ed Sullivan. We were on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' and the rest is history."
Although Young went into semi-retirement in 1983 at age 65, he continued to perform occasionally until the early '90s.
Young's first wife, Muriel, died in 1984.
In addition to Arlene, his wife of 22 years, Young is survived by his children, Dr. Neil Young, Arleen Young, Ron Young, Guy Goldstein, Lauren Goldstein and Rachel Diaz; and eight granddaughters.
A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. today at Temple Isaiah, 332 W. Alejo Road, Palm Springs.