Garry Stevens, the singer who entertained thousands of Capital Region residents on weeknights during the early days of live television, has died in Benicia, Calif.
He was 93.
During the 1950s, television fans tuned into WRGB Television during the early evenings to watch “TV Showcase” with the “After Six Seven.” The seven-man group included Stevens, drummer Gordie Randall and others who performed standards of the day.
Stevens had been on bigger stages. During the 1940s, he sang with both the Charlie Spivak and Tex Beneke orchestras. He was the first singer to record “White Christmas,” shortly before Bing Crosby made the holiday favorite his signature tune.
“His famous story is the Spivak orchestra recorded it and it sold over a million copies,” said Stevens’ widow, Judy Wilson Stevens, who said Garry passed away in his rocking chair on Dec. 8. “He got $10 and Charlie Spivak got $20.”
Garry Stevens discussed his popularity in a 2005 interview with Internet site Bigbandlibrary.com. In 1942, the Spivak orchestra was big in New York City, recording regularly and earning spots on radio. Stevens’ mellow voice was part of the popularity, and he was named one of the nation’s top singers.
“Yes, Billboard in 1942, I was fourth,” Stevens told Bigbandlibrary. “We had Sinatra, who was still with [Tommy] Dorsey at the time, and Dick Haymes, who was singing with Harry James, Bob Eberly with Jimmy Dorsey and ‘old Gar’ with Charlie Spivak. Fourth in the country, which was a great honor, I think.”
Stevens also told the Internet site that if not for the war, he believed the Spivak outfit would have been one of the most famous bands in the country.
“In 1942, when I got my draft notice, we had three records in the top 10: ‘My Devotion,’ ‘White Christmas’ and ‘I Left My Heart At the Stage Door Canteen’ ” Stevens said. “I think with that kind of popularity, another year and that band would have been as big a name as any band in the country.”
Stevens settled in the Capital Region during the late 1940s, first working as a disc jockey at radio station WROW. He joined WRGB in 1949; the “After Six Seven” sets started in 1950 and ran through 1959.
“It was a musical show,” said Fred Saburro of Rotterdam, a longtime WRGB cameraman, lighting man and floor manager. “Garry sang, and he’d have guest singers on. You couldn’t get away with that today. And when I started there it was all live, we didn’t have any videotape yet.”
Saburro said Stevens built a legion of fans.
“I’ll tell you how big he was,” he said. “He’d be playing high school jobs and there’d be hundreds of people there to greet him. It was like Perry Como or Frank Sinatra coming to town.”
Longtime WRGB anchorman Ernie Tetrault said Stevens didn’t consider himself a big shot.
“He was a very friendly guy, never played the big star,” Tetrault said. “He was very easy to talk to, and a very talented guy. He sang, played the trumpet and helped make that ‘After Six Seven’ a very successful operation.”
Jack Aernecke, another former WRGB anchor, remembered seeing Stevens perform at a benefit sometime during the 1980s. The singer suffered from arthritis and told Aernecke that he was feeling the pain that night.
Once Stevens got to the microphone, the condition improved. “Music was his tonic,” Aernecke said.
Peg Miller of Colonie was married to Gordie Randall during the “After Six Seven” years, and knew Stevens through the family association. “He was a very amiable, very good-looking man,” Miller said of Stevens. “He was a very good singer. He was still singing on and off right up until his death, but not on a regular basis. He was a lot of fun, a nice person to be around.”
Stevens eventually began working in real estate. By 1970, he was vice president of sales for O’Connor-Sullivan Inc. He also was active on the Albany County Board of Realtors and was on the board of directors for both the Albany YMCA and the Greater Colonie Chamber of Commerce.
Judy Stevens — Stevens’ second wife — said the couple moved to California in October 1998. She said Garry worked with both the Benicia High School jazz band — Benicia is in the San Francisco Bay area — and the Contra Costa jazz band in Walnut Creek. He remained a sailing aficionado into his 90s.
“He was my best friend, and we did many things together,” Judy Stevens said of the 35-year union. “He taught me how to golf, how to ski, how to sail.”
Judy Stevens also said her husband could put tears in peoples’ eyes.
“He used to sing ‘Beyond the Sea,’ ” she said, “and he didn’t sing ‘Beyond the Sea’ like Bobby Darin. It was very slow, with a lot of feeling. Women cried, and so did men.”