Eydie Gormé died in 2013 at age 84. Seven years earlier, The Arizona Republic had a rare interview with the singer and her husband, Steve Lawrence, in which they focused on a topic the two rarely addressed: Her groundbreaking career in Latin music, highlighted by the 1964 album “Amor” and its classic single “Sabor a Mi.” To commemorate the 55th anniversary of the beloved album, recorded with Trio Los Panchos, we present the following story that originally appeared on Feb. 16, 2006. 

When it comes to Latin-music icons, Las Vegas veteran Eydie Gormé isn’t exactly the first name that leaps to mind.

But to generations of Hispanics, Gormé is eternally linked with nostalgic sounds in Spanish. The primary reason is “Amor,” her luminous 1964 collaboration with Mexican vocal group Trio Los Panchos.

“Most artists have an album or two that define them,” says Texas journalist Ramiro Burr, author of “The Billboard Guide to Tejano and Regional Mexican Music.” “The Beatles have ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ Nirvana has ‘Nevermind.’ For Eydie Gormé, that timeless album is ‘Amor.'”

Since its release more than 40 years ago, the disc has never gone out of print. It’s the biggest-selling album in Gormé’s long career. In the ’90s, Sony repackaged the album along with its 1965 sequel, “More Amor,” and the disc made the Latin charts all over again. Just last year, Gormé and husband-singing partner Steve Lawrence released a deluxe version of the album through their Web site,

Why Eydie Gormé sang in Spanish

Gormé’s career in Spanish may seem surprising until one looks at her background. The New York-born singer is the daughter of Sephardic Jews and grew up speaking mainly Spanish at home.

“I knew every pop song written at the time,” she says, calling from a home in Malibu she shares with Lawrence. “I knew all the boleros, because everybody would sing them around the house.”

Along with her future hubby, Gormé hit it big in the ’50s through appearances on Steve Allen’s “Tonight” show. Nightclub gigs and brassy hit songs such as “Too Close for Comfort” and “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” established her as a mainstream singing star before “Amor” came along.

Columbia Records President Goddard Lieberson came up with the concept of recording one of his top female vocalists with Los Panchos, a big-selling trio a few years past their prime.

“He was a really sophisticated, international man,” Lawrence recalls. “He knew of Eydie’s Spanish background. He thought of Los Panchos, and they were aware of Eydie. They all met in the studio, and it was like they were old friends.”

Choosing the songs on ‘Amor’

Los Panchos chose the songs. Most of them were established tunes, such as “Piel Canela,” “Amor” and “Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado,” that had been recorded by scores of artists.

“I knew a lot of them,” Gormé says. “I didn’t even realize I knew them until we worked on them, and they were songs I knew from my house growing up.”

She has other memories of making the disc; specifically, of Los Panchos.

“They were drinking a lot of wine on those sessions,” she says with a laugh. “They were lovely people. Drunk, but lovely.”

Whatever the reason, the artists had a once-in-a-lifetime chemistry.

Gormé sings in a soft, sensual croon that is miles away from her showstopping English style. The Panchos – Chucho Navarro, Alfredo Gil and Johnny Albino – offer intimate support, backing the singer with simple guitar and a wisp of percussion.

The result is the perfect Spanish make-out album; something designed to be listened to when lights are low and the mood is romantic.

Good times

Mercy McCormick, a retired schoolteacher in Phoenix, remembers the album being played at long-forgotten Latin nightclubs in Tucson in the ’60s.

“You’d hear her on the Spanish-speaking stations,” McCormick says. “Then the young people would go to dances at clubs like La Selva or the Casino, and you’d meet other young people. Eydie Gormé always seemed to be playing.”

One reason for the album’s acceptance is Gormé’s perfect Spanish. While both Nat King Cole and Connie Francis recorded in Spanish in the ’60s, neither had the mass acceptance of Gormé. Surprisingly, she adopted a different accent than the one she grew up speaking.

“It was right in the middle,” she says. “It’s much more Mexico City. It’s elegant. It’s soft and pretty. I liked it much better than the accent I used at home.”

Paco Cruz, 56, of Phoenix, moved to the Valley in 1963 from Guatemala City, and he immediately connects Gormé’s velvety tones with his early days in this country.

“I grew up with the music of Los Panchos,” says Cruz, a former disc jockey who now works as a translator. “Then to hear this angelic voice singing their music with them – that’s why the Hispanic people took her to their hearts.”

It’s a place she has stayed through the years. Though she recorded several more discs in Spanish, “Amor” remains the jewel in her crown. If you’re a Mexican-American over a certain age, that album is like a badge of honor.

“My aunts and uncles would come over when I was a kid,” remembers John Marin, 53, of Phoenix, who works for a print shop. “They would sit and play cards, and Eydie Gormé would play all night long. We would be outside playing, and because I was the oldest, they would call me to flip the record when it was time to turn it over.”

Years later, when he bought his first CD player, the first disc he purchased was “Amor.” It has never stopped having resonance in his life. He remembers his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary four years ago.”While we were eating, we had the DJ put the album on,” he says. “My sister started crying as soon as she heard “Sabor a Mi.” It just makes you think back to old times.”

The impact of ‘Sabor a Mi’ 

That Alvaro Carrillo standard is Gormé’s equivalent to Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” or Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.” Others have recorded it, but the haunting, softly erotic “Sabor a Mi” remains hers alone.

Los Angeles-based comedian Ernie G. grew up hearing the song at family celebrations.

“You would ask who sings it, and then you’d think, ‘Eydie Gormé? She’s Mexican?’ ” the 30-something comic says with a laugh. “It’s kind of like the Mexican national anthem. Whenever you hear it, it doesn’t matter who’s singing it: In your mind you hear Eydie Gormé.”

Ernie G. was so taken with Gorme’s rendition of the song that he even recorded a comedic R-rated English version on his 2000 CD “Mama’s Boy.”

“My family was disgusted when they heard it,” he says. “They all shook their heads.”

To Armando Mesa of Chandler, even the cover photo of a youthful Gormé made an indelible impression.

“Seeing this photo of a pretty lady with dark hair and dark eyes – it was like, this is what the ideal Latin woman looks like,” the 34-year-old music fan says.

No fan of Luis Miguel

After all these years, Gormé still gets letters from fans in Spanish. She writes back to them in their language.

“They’re more loyal to me than English speakers,” she says. “For the most part, they seem to hang on to what came before them. It’s nice to hear.”

Gormé, 74, even has fans in the industry. When she and Steve were performing in Mexico in the ’80s, a young singer came to see her backstage.

“He tells me, ‘Oh, I would love for you to teach me those songs. I grew up with these songs. We could record them together.’ Then the little (expletive) goes off and does the whole thing by himself,” Gormé says.

His name? Luis Miguel, the Mexican superstar who went on to record a good half-dozen of the tunes found on “Amor” for his platinum-selling “Romance” series.

Gormé may be getting the last laugh, however. Producer Roberto Livi, who has worked with Chayanne and Vikki Carr and produced Gormé’s 1988 hit “Sentado a la Vera del Camino,” approached her last month about recording again and touring in Latin America.

“He tells me that I wouldn’t believe how much they want me down there,” she says.

Gormé knows that a lot of people – the media in particular – credit Linda Ronstadt as a pioneering artist for crossing over from English to Spanish.

“Linda Ronstadt – she avoids me!” Gormé declares with a boisterous laugh. “I am the pioneer.”

One listen to “Amor,” and it’s hard to disagree.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8849. to today.

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