I’m sad to announce the passing of the indelible singing sensation from the jazz age, Monica Lewis, who with the help of Benny Goodman launched her career and made her debut by appearing in nationally broadcast productions, such as, “The Revere Camera Show” and “Beat The Band”, in which she was recognized for her rhapsodic vocal essence and her melodious voice that led to her being crowned “America’s Singing Sweetheart”.
May Lewis was the youngest child born to Leon and Jessica Lewis on May 5th, 1922 in Chicago, Illinois. From the time she was born music had been in her blood. Her parents were highly involved in the musical background, with her father working as a successful symphonic composer and pianist, while her mother was one of the most influential singers from the Chicago Opera Company, so it’s no wonder young Monica inherited their passion by relishing in the sounds of music and studying voice training with her mother when she was still only a mere toddler.
When the United States were facing the catastrophe of the Great Depression, the family were struggling financially and were forced to relocate to New York. Soon after their arrival, Monica’s siblings established themselves in the entertainment industry. Her sister Bobbe set her goals and succeeded in becoming a seasoned concert pianist, and her brother Marlow co-created Ed Sullivan’s landmark television show, “Toast Of The Town”, which was later renamed “The Ed Sullivan Show”.
At the age of seventeen, Monica Lewis quit college to pursue a career as a vocalist. Shortly after she attained work singing on “The Gloom Dodgers”, a morning program on New York’s WHN Radio. Her subsequent success led to musical engagements at The Stork Club, where she attracted the attention of Benny Goodman, who seen potential in her and became a major influence in her life by expediting her popularity to co-hosting and showcasing her vocal prowess on national broadcast shows like “Beat The Band”, “The Chesterfield Hour: Music That Satisfies” and “The Revere Camera Show”. With Benny Goodman’s assistance, it didn’t take long for her star status to escalate and in due time, Monica became one of the countries highest-flying songbirds, working with some of America’s leading record labels, including, Signature, Decca and Capital. Most of her best known work were produced through these companies, and with perennial hits like, “Autumn Leaves”, “I Wish You Love”, “Fools Rush In”, “Put The Blame On Mame” and “A Tree In The Meadow”, her reputation increased, and she was now known as America’s Singing Sweetheart.
With this new title, it meant a new destination for Monica Lewis, a journey that would take her to some of the famed music venues and movie studios between New York and Los Angeles, along a road that would lead to a myriad of television appearances on renowned shows such as Ed Sullivan’s very first broadcast in 1948 and variety shows that were hosted by Bob Hope, Danny Thomas, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, and commercial work where she spotlighted her voice for the animated “Miss Chiquita Banana”.
That road would lead to a career transformation into motion pictures in 1950 when Metro Goldwyn Mayer signed her to a contract, and before long she would make her film debut as the café singer in “Inside Straight” ( 1951 ) starring Barry Sullivan. Sadly the film was panned by critics, resulting in a disastrous outcome, but Lewis continued on as an actress exhibiting her inimitable talents in an array of films that included, “Everything I Have Is Yours”, “The Strip”, “Affair With A Stranger”, “Earthquake” and “Airport 77”.
Just when the world couldn’t get enough of Monica Lewis, she volunteered her time for the war effort and performed for the U.S. servicemen worldwide for the war bond drive. This included military radio broadcasts and a tour of Korea in 1951 with Danny Kaye. Back home she was an iconic figure and was enthroned as “The worlds favorite advertising face”, with her visage being plastered across major companies from, Piel’s Light Beer, Camel Cigarettes to General Electric.
In 1945, Lewis married American record producer, Bob Thiele. The marriage never went as planned, and the two endured a couple of years of heated altercations until they finally divorced a few years later. When Beverly Hills became her permanent residence in the 50’s, she met the notable film producer, Jennings Lang, who she married in 1956. The couple bore three children, Michael, Robert and Rocky. Lewis later described her times with Lang as some of the happiest moments in her life, but sadly this was not to last and the marriage came to a cessation in 1996 when Jennings died of Pneumonia.
Monica Lewis remained active during the later years of her life, and at the termination of her profession, she took up an interest in computers and social media by engaging herself in many endless hours of communicating to her fans on her Facebook page that she maintained herself. Last year, I was fortunate enough to receive a personal message from Monica, and she was elated to discover that somebody as young as me would marvel at the eminent stars from the golden era.
Monica Lewis died peacefully in her sleep on June 12th, 2015 at her home in Woodland Hills, California, at the age of 93. She is survived by her three children, and her plethora of fans worldwide, who spend many joyous hours listening to her music or watching her movies. Even though she is gone her memory will live on through her vivacious spirit and euphonious voice that survived the ages.
Rest In Peace Monica Lewis: May 5th, 1922 – June 12th, 2015.
Written by Crystal Kalyana.