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Jimmy Damon, ‘born to be a singer,’ dies at 75

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Updated: May 30, 2013 3:08PM



Jimmy Damon sang in the shower, at state fairs and aboard cruise ships. He honed his skills any chance he got, especially at clubs and lounges all over the city, becoming one of Chicago’s best-known nightlife crooners.

He sang largely Frank Sinatra and Rat Pack songs, but others, too. He just loved to sing.

“He’d be out to dinner and see someone he didn’t even know celebrating a birthday, and he would get up and sing to them,” said Mr. Damon’s daughter, Dana Damon-Trentadue.

His passion for song made him one of Chicago’s preeminent baritone voices for nearly four decades.

Mr. Damon died Saturday at Rush University Medical Center after battling a rare blood disease. He was 75.

“I sing as though there’s 100,000 people in front of me,” Mr. Damon told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1999. “That’s what I’m about. If there’s just one person in the room, that might be the right person. You came to hear me sing, you’re going to get it, babes. I don’t hold back.”

Mr. Damon knew both ends of the audience spectrum, from near-empty lounges to capacity crowds at Wrigley Field listening to him sing the National Anthem.

“He opened shows for George Burns and Bob Newhart,” his daughter said. “He traveled all over: Hawaii, Bermuda, Japan.”

Comedian Bill Murray based his “Saturday Night Live” character “Nick the Lounge Singer” on Mr. Damon.

“He never got offended if anyone ever poked fun of him being a lounge singer,” Damon-Trentadue said. “He was born to be a singer, he’d sing at weddings and funerals and charity events for free.”

He had no onstage persona — except his own.

“If anybody really wants to know who I am, they can listen to my music and they’ll probably get close to me,” he told the Sun-Times.

And a lot of people did get to know him.

“We’ve been getting hundreds of calls in the last few days,” Damon-Trentadue said. “Everyone from Tom Dreesen to Gov. Thompson.”

The street outside the 25th floor Lake Point Tower condo he called home for decades is Jimmy Damon Way. Mr. Damon was born Jimmy Demopoulos in Memphis, Tenn. His father, Nick, ran a 24-hour restaurant where Mr. Damon met and then performed with such future stars as Conway Twitty and Elvis Presley.

At 16, he co-hosted a regional TV show and dance party called “The Big Beat.” By 1957, he had his own fan club — mostly teenage girls.

In 1968, he changed his name to Damon, and three years later he left Memphis for Chicago, a city he thought could take him to the top.

His style evolved from tight leather pants with open-chested shirt beneath a leather jacket with fringe and rhinestones to his signature black tuxedo.

“But he always kept his cowboy boots,” said Damon-Trentadue.

He became friends with Frank Sinatra, his family said.

“My father was the only one who was authorized in writing by Frank Sinatra and his family to sing his music,” she said.

In his final years, Mr. Damon staged his own Sinatra tribute show and performed it throughout the Midwest.

Mr. Damon honed his craft at the defunct Cousin’s Club, a 1970s nightspot at 166 E. Superior. He sang cabaret covers of Lou Rawls’ “Lady Love” and John Denver’s “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.”

Mr. Damon met his wife, Marilyn, while singing at a bowling alley in Chicago.

“It was love at first sight,” Damon-Trentadue said.

“He sang up until the end. He had a gig in March in Boca Raton,” she said.

Mr. Damon also is survived by his wife, Marilyn; another daughter, Alexa Damon-Soegaard, and a grandson, Antonio Trentadue.

Services will be held at Michael Coletta Sons Funeral Home. Arrangements are pending.



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