Buddy Greco, who ran with the Rat Pack and had a hit in ‘The Lady Is a Tramp,’ dies at 90

Jazz singer Buddy Greco performing at Orange Coast College's Robert B. Moore Theatre.
(Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times)

Buddy Greco, the jazz singer, piano player and long-running Vegas showman whose hits included “The Lady Is a Tramp,” has died.

The musician, who was often associated with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin’s Rat Pack and whose lengthy career spanned eight decades, died Tuesday in Las Vegas, according to his Facebook page. He was 90.

Sam Greco confirmed his father had died, but did not provide details or cause of death.

For decades Greco headlined top nightclubs, cabarets and music rooms around the world. He had such solid-selling singles as “The Lady Is A Tramp,” “I Ran All the Way Home” and “Mr. Lonely” and recorded more than 60 albums.


He also performed with Marilyn Monroe, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and once played for Queen Elizabeth II along with The Beatles.

Though he was never officially a member of the Rat Pack, he shared the stage and hung out with Sinatra, Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

See the most-read stories in Entertainment this hour »

Born Armando Greco in South Philadelphia in 1926, Greco began performing at age 4. He sang on the radio and started playing piano by the time he was 6. When he was 20, he signed with his first record label, MusiCraft, which counted Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Tormé among its artists.

“I knew the minute I was born, I’ve always known my life was going to be in the music business,” Greco said in a 2008 interview with the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

“Oh Look-A-There Ain’t She Pretty” was his first hit, selling over a million copies, according to his website. In 1949, band leader Benny Goodman came into Philadelphia’s Club 13, heard Greco and hired him as his keyboardist.

“I always wanted to be my own boss,” Greco said in 1991. “I never liked working with anybody. When I first made a couple of records that were little hits, people like Charlie Ventura, Buddy DeFranco and Dizzy [Gillespie] used to mention me for their band. But I never wanted to work with them. The only guy I really wanted to work for was Benny Goodman.

“Luckily, one night he came in and hired me.”


Though he was a mainstay in America, two of his career highlights took place in England, where he both lived and toured, Greco said in a 1991 interview with The Times.

In 1960, he recorded what became his favorite album, “From the Wrist Down,” a collection of instrumentals with accompaniment from the London Symphony Orchestra. And in 1964, he played for the queen at Prince of Wales Hall.

“I arrived and there were 10,000 people outside trying to get into 1,200 seats. It turned out the opening act was the Beatles, and it was about six months before they were to become known in the U.S.,” Greco recalled. “That was a thrill, an Italian from South Philly performing for the queen.”


In his prime, the headlining Strip performer drew crowds comparable to his pals in the Rat Pack. He made his Las Vegas debut in 1955 at the lounge at the Sands, where he met Sinatra. He also headlined the Desert Inn’s Starlight Room in 1992 — that’s where he met his wife fifth wife, Lezlie Anders, who had been his opening act.

“I’m basically a jazz piano player who made it as a singer like Nat (King) Cole did -- he started me. He was my best friend. A lot of the stuff I do is stuff he gave me over the years,” Greco said.

In 1991, Greco released his first jazz album, the self-produced “The Magic of It All,” which took him back to his musical roots.

“I’m at the point in my life that I don’t have anything to prove to anyone,” Greco told The Times. “I just want to go out and play and have fun.”


The couple, who also toured together, moved to Palm Springs where they opened Buddy Greco’s Dinner Club, where he headlined until it closed in 2009.

In August, Greco celebrated his 90th birthday with tributes and toasts at the Italian American Club in Las Vegas.

“That is what Lezlie wants everyone to remember... The man with the magic fingers and the smooth, sexy voice,” his friend Barb Donahue wrote on Facebook.

Despite ups and downs in his lengthy career, the musician remained gracious.


“I’ve been lucky…. I always happened to be in the right place at the right time. Through my Benny Goodman days, through the Rat Pack thing, my friendship with Marilyn Monroe -- I’ve got so many stories.”

Greco is survived by Anders and seven children from previous marriages.

Follow me: @NardineSaad