|The very first
traditional hymns recorded for the RCA Victor Records label were produced by
Charles Grean and recorded on location at
The Church of Incarnation, New York City,
on a Friday, the last day of September, 1949. With Choir and Organ directed
by Mitchell Ayres and assisted by Ray Charles, Perry's two recordings of
"Ave Maria" and "The Lord's Prayer" were released on a
special 12" 78 RPM record due to their length and both hymns charted in
the United States at positions 22 and 28 respectively.
Whilst not a great deal is known about the recording of these two hymns, Perry would record them both again ten years later, again produced by Charles Grean, but this time with the Male Voices of the Robert Shaw Chorale. In October of 1959 these two hymns were recorded at the Manhattan Center, New York City, with orchestration conducted by Mitchell Ayres. The 1959 recordings were released on a limited distribution stereo single but were never released again in "Living Stereo" until the three-track master session tapes were discovered just prior to Perry's death in May of 2001. After forty-two years in the RCA Victor Archives, these historic recordings are now available again in real stereo for the first time since their original issue.
Following the success of his 1949 recordings, Perry recorded six traditional hymns at the Academy of Arts & Letters, New York City, again produced by Charles Grean, with Mitchell Ayres conducting and Organ Accompaniment by Charles Marie Courboin Two of the hymns, "Mother Dear, O Pray for Me" and "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" were recorded with the St. Patrick's Cathedral Boys Choir. Traditional versions of the "Prayer of Thanksgiving" and "Bless this House" and "The Rosary" were recorded with a Mixed Chorus and a Women's Choir, while "Rock of Ages" included a Male Chorus with Organ Accompaniment only. These hymns were released as singles and within two 45 RPM Extended Play albums. His first full album of traditional hymns "I Believe" subtitled "Songs of all Faiths Sung by Perry Como" was first released in the original 10" LP format in 1953 on RCA Victor Records LPM-3188. All songs within the compilation were recorded between September 24th and November 23rd that same year. The title hymn was recorded twice, once with Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Hugo Winterhalter and then again with Mitchell Ayres. It was the Ayres version which was released.
The original compilation also included "Onward Christian Soldiers," with Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Hugo Winterhalter, "Goodnight, Sweet Jesus," "Act of Contrition," "Abide With Me," and "Nearer My God to Thee," with Chorus under the direction of Ray Charles ( the Ray Charles Singers backed Como on television and record for many years ) and two songs in Hebrew, "Kol Nidrei," and "Eli, Eli" again with Mitchell Ayres and His Orchestra.
This compilation was expanded in 1956 in the long play 12" format to include "Ave Maria," "The Lords Prayer," "The Rosary," and "Bless this House," on RCA Victor LPM-1172. All of these recordings pre-date the stereophonic era and were recorded in monaural only. Until recently, only one of these recordings, "Bless this House," recorded June 26, 1950, had been released in the compact disc format ( I Wish It Could Be Christmas Forever 4526-2-R ) and none of the others, including "I Believe," were generally available on compact disc. In 1999 an eclectic compilation from BMG Special Products, which also carried the title "I Believe", included only two tracks from the original compilation plus an undocumented alternate take of the title song. Mr. Como recorded a new version of "Ave Maria" on August 1, 1968. This version was arranged and conducted by Nick Perito with the Ray Charles Singers, in full stereophonic sound, and included within his 1968 RCA Victor album "The Perry Como Christmas Album" LSP-4016. This album is currently available in the UK on compact disc but the 1968 version of "Ave Maria" has been re-released within various compilations.
In recent interviews Mr. Como has remarked that his recordings for "Songs of All Faiths" were not as well received as he thought they might have been. His interpretation of these religious standards may well have proved more ecumenical and ahead of his time than was the record buying public of the early 50s. His observations need to be put in perspective, however, due to the overall popularity of anything he recorded during this time; even moderate sales by any other measure would have been considered a success.
Perry Como recorded an inspirational album in 1958 titled "When You Come to the End of the Day" in full stereophonic sound and containing some of the finest interpretations of his recorded career. Produced by Joe Reisman with Mitchell Ayres Orchestra and the Ray Charles Singers, arrangements by Reisman, Jack Andrews and Joe Lipman, it was recorded at RCA Victors Studio A, New York, on April 30, May 1, June 18, 19, and 23, 1958 and engineered by Bob Simpson. Although released in stereo, sales of the monaural version likely predominated during what was only the beginning of the stereo era. Although there is no evidence that this recording lacked for success, one is given to wonder whether Como, generally considered a devout Roman Catholic, was well received in performance of fundamentalist Christian material. Apart from one track, "Prayer for Peace," these recordings were never again released in full stereo. In May of 2001, just prior to Perry's death, these recordings were re-released for the first time in true "Living Stereo" for the first time since their original issue. They are now available in real stereo within compact disc compilations from Collectables and BMG's affiliate Buddha Records label.
Perry's final recording was made in January, 1994, during the taping of his Irish Christmas Special but not for the RCA Victor Records label. Very appropriately, however, his final recording was "Ave Maria" which was arranged and conducted by his long time conductor and good friend Nick Perito, available on compact disc, CD-ROM and various video formats. The Irish Christmas Special has been aired annually on the PBS Network since 1994. Perry's recordings and many performances of "Ave Maria" through out his long career have been so closely associated with him that it seems appropriate this should be his final recording.
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