Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Steve Lawrence: Entertainer

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post marked the birth on July 8, 1935, of the American Grammy and Emmy Award-winning pop singer, actor, and comedian Steve Lawrence.  Maestro Lawrence’s birth name was Sidney Liebowitz, which I used as a point of departure for an extended riff on American Jewish musicians/entertainers who changed their named in order to “blend in” to what was, during the first half of the twentieth century, the predominantly white, Protestant, Anglo-American culture.

Steve Lawrence (1935-2024) and Eydie Gormé (1928-2013) circa 1960
Steve Lawrence (1935-2024) and Eydie Gormé (1928-2013) circa 1960

During the course of researching and writing yesterday’s blog, I watched a bunch of Steve Lawrence videos.  In some, he appeared solo.  In others, he appeared with his wife and performing partner, Eydie Gormé (1928-2013).  In still others, he appeared with his best pal, Sammy Davis Jr. I watched Steve Lawrence perform and be interviewed on his friend Johnny Carson’s Show (on which he appeared many times) and the Ed Sullivan Show (ditto).  In fact, I spent an entire afternoon watching Steve Lawrence videos.  It was an altogether shocking pleasure, one that evoked from me applause (is there anything more stupid, really, than applauding a YouTube video?), laughter, a few tears, and the most acute nostalgia: I hadn’t realized – or at least I hadn’t remembered – how much these mid-century entertainers had shaped by musical consciousness and cultural awareness.

Well, I’ve been reminded.  This post will share with you some of what I watched, because one, the older ones among us need – perhaps – to be reminded as well, and two, the younger ones among us should be aware of these good people because they were all quite fabulous.

What struck me the most about the folks in these videos, starting with Sidney Liebowitz/Steve Lawrence, is that they were – as the italicized word two paragraphs ago indicated – entertainers: a category of all-purpose popular performance artist largely forgotten today.


From left-to-right, Andy Williams (1927-2012), Tony Bennett (1926-1923), and Steve Lawrence at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas; August 5, 1966
Born to entertain, born for Las Vegas! From left-to-right, Andy Williams (1927-2012), Tony Bennett (1926-1923), and Steve Lawrence at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas; August 5, 1966

Entertainers are a special sort of performers, one sometimes referred to as “variety artists.”  They are described/defined as follows:

“Entertainers perform live for audiences in a range of artistic and creative works, including theater, dance, comedy, and music. They write and rehearse routines, develop characters, performance styles or other talents, and even sometimes create costumes and props to accompany their acts, and perform their acts live and/or through electronic media.”

This description/definition fits Steve Lawrence like one of his perfectly tailored tuxedos.  On stage, there was nothing he couldn’t do.  He was a natural born crooner with a smooth, warm, honey-sweet, pitch-perfect baritone voice.  He could dance.  He could do comedy.  He could act.

Steve Lawrence as the sleazy booking agent Maury Sline in The Blues Brothers (1980)
Steve Lawrence as the sleazy booking agent Maury Sline in The Blues Brothers (1980)

He had charm, confidence, presence, and stage savvy virtually oozing from his every pore.  He was nominated for a Tony Award in 1964 for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for his performance as Sammy Glick in What Makes Sammy Run? Along with his wife and performing partner Eydie Gormé, he won an Emmy Award in 1979 for Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Program for Steve & Eydie Celebrate Irving Berlin.  He won a Grammy Award, a Film Advisory Board’s Award of Excellence, a New York Critic Circle Award, and a Television Critics Circle Award as well.

This sort of all-purpose, category-busting entertainer, the likes of which includes Jimmy Cagney (1899-1986), Bing Crosby (1903-1977), Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), Judy Garland (1922-1969), Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990), Elvis Presley (1935-1977), Barbra Streisand (born 1942), Bette Midler (born 1945), and Cher (born 1946) are a disappearing breed.…

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