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GARY, JOHN (1932–1998). Singer and stage and television star John Gary was born John Gary Strader in Watertown, New York, on November 29, 1932, the son of Harold Strader and Merle Dawson Harrington. Gary became a popular stage and television star during the 1960s because of his soulful, heartfelt singing style and three-octave range. His signature song, "Danny Boy," revealed his love for Irish tunes, but his singing repertoire included show tunes, country hits, and romantic ballads.
He began singing at age five with his older sister Shirley at amateur talent shows. At age nine he won a three-year scholarship as a boy soprano to the Cathedral School of St. John the Divine in New York. At age ten he won two "Pins of Distinction" from the American Theater Wing and the Merchant Seaman's Club for the Stage Door Canteen.
By Gary's twelfth birthday his parents had divorced. After he toured the Southern states with Macon Conservatory pianist Frank Pursley he went to live with his mother and three siblings in California. He attended North Hollywood Junior and Senior High and enrolled in Hollywood Professional School while performing as a regular staff member on CBS/KNX radio. He also sang for tips as he worked as a waiter, doorman, and usher at various restaurants, hotels, and theaters. His stepfather, Bob Yale, became Gary's agent and manager and promoted his early career in Hollywood. As a teenager, Gary made stage and radio appearances with Lionel Barrymore, Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, Billy Wardell, Martha Tilton, Marie Wilson, Jack Cooper, George Jessel, Ken Murray's Blackouts, and others.
When he was seventeen his voice finally began to crack and change, and he decided his singing career was over. He joined the United States Marine Corps, in which he served as a military policeman and chaplain's assistant. But he began singing in military chapel services and found his voice had matured to a brilliant tenor with rich baritone flexibility. After being discharged from the service at age twenty Gary met Bob McGimsey, who became his mentor and manager. Gary made "demo" recordings for songwriters such as Harry Ruby, Sammy Fain, Jimmy McHugh, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Victor Young, and Henry Mancini. He performed regularly on Don McNeill's popular network radio show, "Breakfast Club," and then began a steady career making television and stage appearances across America.
About 1962 he signed with the RCA label. During Gary's affiliation with RCA he recorded more than twenty albums; the first was Catch a Rising Star. He also recorded about twenty-five albums for various independent labels. He performed on "The Tonight Show," "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Bell Telephone Hour," Dick Clark's "American Bandstand," and "The Danny Kaye Show." In the early 1970s a summer-replacement program for Danny Kaye's CBS television show evolved into Gary's own syndicated television variety show, "The John Gary Show," which ran for three years. Gary also sang in stage productions––The Student Prince and Camelot, for instance––at venues such as the Kansas City Starlight Theater, the Dallas Theater in the Round, and the Dallas Crystal Palace. Gary's popularity continued well into the 1990s, and he sang with numerous symphonies and at various concert halls, conventions, and special events around the world.
In 1971 he moved to Richardson, Texas, and married Lee Wilson. Gary also had children from previous relationships with Muriel Stafford Getz and Lois Reidy McDonnell. His family included four sons, two adopted sons, and seven stepchildren. Although Gary's singing talents made him famous, he excelled at many other interests throughout his life, such as boxing, archery, and underwater diving. Among his achievements are two published books of poetry and numerous published songs, including "Possum Song," "I'll Say It All Again," "One Red Rose," and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."
He received many honors and awards, including the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences "Most Promising Vocalist" Grammy in 1963, mention in the California and United States congressional records, and numerous appearances as grand marshal at St. Patrick's Day parades throughout America. Though he scored no hit singles, some of his mid-1960s albums rose to the Top 20, including The Nearness of You, Encore, and A Little Bit of Heaven. Other popular albums by Gary include Songs of Love and Romance (Collector's Choice, 1994), Ireland's Greatest Hits and The Very Best of John Gary (RCA, 1997), and The Essential John Gary (BMG Records, 2001).
In 1991 Gary was diagnosed with cancer. He died at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas on January 4, 1998. He was buried in Pecan Grove Cemetery in McKinney, Texas.
Dallas Morning News, January 6, 11, 1998. John Gary (www.johngary.com), accessed November 1, 2015. Music by Mail: John Gary—Catalog of Distinguished Releases (http://www.websterrecords.com/artists/gary.html), accessed April 2, 2008.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Cheryl L. Simon, "GARY, JOHN," accessed May 25, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgaah.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on November 2, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.