February 27, 2004 by

Don Cornell


Categories: Musicians

dcornell.jpgDuring his five decades in show business, Don Cornell sold more than 50 million records.

The big band singer scored a string of hits during the 1950s and early ’60s, including “It Isn’t Fair,” “I’m Yours,” “Most of All,” “Hold My Hand” and “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.” His classic baritone was perfectly suited to the popular crooning of the pre-rock ‘n’ roll era.

Cornell sang and played guitar with trumpeter Red Nichols and big band leader Sammy Kaye until World War II when he served in the U.S. Air Force. Once his military service ended, Cornell rejoined Kaye and performed on several of the band’s minor hits before launching his solo career.

Considered a staple on the club circuit in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, Cornell continued performing into his 80s. In 1963, he received one of the first stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the Big Band Hall of Fame 30 years later.

Cornell died on Feb. 23 from advanced emphysema and diabetes. He was 84.

38 Responses to Don Cornell

  1. Adam Wm. Fisher, Ph.D.

    As a boy of the ages 11-17 (1944-1950), it was my pleasure to listen to Don Cornell when he was working with Sammy Kaye. Kaye’s orchestra played for many years in the Hershey Ballroom, Hershey, Pennsylvania. The Ballroom was destroyed in the 1960’s. After many years, it was again my pleasure to listen to Don Cornell in 1999. This time at the Three Little Bakers Playhouse in Wilmington, Delaware. His wife was with him. Nick Immediato, owner of the Playhouse and a close friend of mine, talked with Don and his wife. Don Cornell’s voice was as a 35 year old man. People who attended the two evenings of his performance could not believe that he was 79-80 years of age. He looked as good as he sounded. The love between Don and his wife was as evident as was his talent. For the following year, 2000, Don planned on returning to the Playhouse with Frank Sinatra and Perry Como for the celebration of Sinatra’s birthday. Como and Cornell were next door neighbors in Florida. I forget the name of the town in which they lived. Cornell and Sinatra were also close friends. However, Sinatra (died) and Como was not in good health. Therefore, the trio did not come. Don Cornell was talented beyond the headlines that he received and those that did not receive.
    Respectfully, Adam Wm. Fisher, Ph.D.

  2. Fran

    about 3years ago i went on a cruise with Don Cornell and his wife and a bunch of his friends and we had such a good time. he sang like he did many years ago when i first seen him with Sammy Kays band. i spoke to his wife Irsis many times after that what a beautiful person she is . i will truly miss don very much. Don i love you. you were extra special to us.
    fran dell’era



  4. Arthur Mattei

    Even though mine was the generation that introduced rock and roll in the early 1950’s, I had always loved the more romantic music of the earlier era, which managed to coexist with R & R for a number of years after that. Don Cornell epitomized that beautiful sound as well as anyone and he was my favorite male vocalist growing up. That powerful, masculine voice and those great ballads he sang pose such a striking contrast to the whining, depressing sounds that pass as music today.
    In the mid-1970’s Don appeared at the Cedar Gardens outside Trenton and my wife and I went to see him. I remember we elected to sit at the bar because the seats we got gave us an unobstructed view directly to the front of the small stage. Seeing him perform up close like that after all those years was one of the great thrills of my life.
    A few years later I was to see him again in a series of revival shows the great WNEW-AM in New York presented between 1977 and 1982 at the magnificent Walker Theatre (since gone) in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst section. Don appeared once, maybe twice, in that series, along with notables from the same era like the Four Aces, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Paige, Eddie Fisher and so many others. There were I believe three shows altogether, and even though the performers were all still comparatively young back then, I knew it would be the only time I would ever get to see them again.
    I kept my eyes open for more Don Cornell appearances over the years, but did not see any listed in my tri-state area. It saddened me that I did not get to see him since apparently he had still been performing, and sounding as good as ever even up to a year or so ago, but I guess not in our area.
    May God bless Don and his family, and may some miracle restore our decadent culture to a time and place where real talent can once again be appreciated.

  5. Charles Owsley, D.M.D.

    I first became aware of Don Cornell’s beautiful voice while still in high school. Many times I would sing his hits and try sound like him.
    I never was able to see Mr. Cornell in person until a trip to Las Vegas (60s or 70s). What a pleasant surprise to walk into a casino and see him appearing in a lounge show there. I sat down and enjoyed all his old, and some new arrangements. The world has lost even another great entertainer.
    A radio station from Sydney, Australia plays Easy Listening music on the internet and aired several personal interviews with Mr. Cornell. My ears always perked up when he was on.
    Charles Owsley, D.M.D.

  6. GeoCornell

    When I attended Boston College I had a teacher who called me Don Cornell..the real Don Cornell died on the day my daughter (6 yrs old) was having surgery at Mass General. 1sttime I was in Boston in awhile..a little coincedence
    George Cornell

  7. Danny Ruhl

    Although I never met Don & Iris, I have stayed in touch with them. I loved Dons great voice since I was 9 years old. No singer was so close to my heart. God bless his sweet family and Iris his beloved wife.
    Danny Ruhl
    Clovis, New Mexico


    just like to say Don was one of a kind ,very smooth, a class act and always a gentle man we share alot of laugh and fun times inPR in the 70 and again at AC I still have a ascot he gave me in PR he will be miss RIP dear friend. FS (agent)

  9. Emerson Cole

    Met Don Cornell on a cruise, having dropped in to watch the rehearsal. Have been on radio since 1937, and at the current DJ post for 26 years, we talked about the Big Bands. He gave me his recent cassette, which I have aired many times. His performance on board ship was not only outstanding, but as exciting as ever. We are fortunate he made so many recordings of that glorious voice.

  10. Honoria Smith

    The first record I heard of Don Cornell was in th early fifties a friend of my late brother Bernard’s
    (Jack Gibson)was in the merchant navy and travelled regularly from Manchester England to Toronto and would bring records back to play on our old wind up gramaphone with a pickup to the radio. That record was ” It Isn’t Fair ” and many more of Don’s hits to follow. What pleasure we had, listening to it and many other records he brought for us Some of the lads and girls, friends of my late sister Teresa who all went to St John’s youth club better known as ” Johnnies “would come to our house to hear the records, we all had some very happy times together.I managed to get a CD in the UK “I’m Yours ” I will be on the look out for more to follow.

  11. Harold Uretsky

    My first double date was in 1962 with my wife (then girlfriend) My friend whose name was Don and his wife went to a small night club in Paramus New Jersey and saw The Great Don Cornell who sang wonderfully. I night we will never forget.

  12. Alice Seeley

    I recently learned of the death of Don Cornell, whom I met several years ago. He performed at our Performing Arts Center here in Melbourne. I knew he sang with Sammy Kaye whom I had known over fifty years. We were enjoying reminiscing, when he mentioned he was going to be singing on an Italian cruise ship in the near future. Needless to say, our family booked passage. I listened to and danced to Don’s music thoughout the years. I was deeply saddened to hear of his death. We all are fortunate to have his recordings, so his magnificent voice will still be heard.

  13. Jim Pratt

    As a young boy I enjoyed Don Cornells singing with Sammy Kaye Sunday serenade. He was slated to sing at Foxwoods casino but the show was canceled to my disapointment. I still have his records and tapes. At least the people of our generation had wonderful singers and great bands. It is so sad that so many great male and female voices have gone. God bless all of them. Jim Pratt

  14. Arnold M. Joseph

    I first saw Don Cornell at the Michigan State Fair in Detroit about 1953. I was about 15 years old then. I had someone take a picture of me with Don Cornell andwhen he came back the next year I asked him to autograph it for me. I have that picture on my bulletin board today. Don Cornell had one of the most powerful and magnivicant voices there ever was !!
    Finding out that he is gone saddens me very much. I will always have the memories of meeting him and remembering how friendly and accommodating he was.
    Arnold Joseph

  15. Jerri Baker

    “Hold My Hand” was my favorite song in 1954, fell in love to it, had seven beautiful children. What a wonderful man he must have been to relay such love in his voice. Wanted to go on his cruise ship. I`m sorry it`s too late. God Bless His Family, Jerri

  16. D Lightfoot Sizemore

    In a collection of 50-year-old LPs that I inherited, I have Don Cornell’s autograph on the jacket of “Don’s Great Hits” (Dot Records, DOT DLP 3160). He signed it “to Heima, Every good wish to you and yours.” I need to clear out the record collection–no room to keep everything. Anybody know of a collector who would appreciate having Don’s signature? Thanks.

  17. ed kaluf

    remember seeing and talking to don and his wife at the star theater in merrillville indiana.Don performance was outstanding and he sounded just the same or better then he di many years ago when i first heard him,I have a ton of his music on records 45s tapes and cds and will be listening to that voice and music when im no longer here.

  18. Dale Harrison

    It is still a special moment when a favorite radio station plays “I’m Yours” or “It Isn’t Fair”, and once again I’m 16 and in love. Thanks for the memories, Don, and God Speed!

  19. Eddie G. Tate III

    I first remember meeting Don and Iris as he was singing in an Atlantic City casino in the mid-80s, and I was the publicist responsible for letting the world know of his presence in A.C. It was by far the easiest task I was ever given, as Don knocked the audience dead each and every night he sang!
    As a former golf professional, however, I was more able to entertain Don on the golf course, for his two loves in life were his wife Iris and golf! I’ll never forget playing golf with Don, Jose Ferrer and Julius Boros in Florida!
    And while my generation might have enjoyed harder music than what Don played, I can still honestly say that his was a voice that captured my imagination every time I heard it. I’m sad that he’s gone, but I do relish in knowing that Don, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and so many other great talents are headlining in a much better place.

  20. Paul & Lorraine Tretina

    Once again, the romance returns. We fell in love as teenagers back in the 50’s with Don Cornell. Our son researched and presented us with his CD this past Christmas (2005) after speaking with Iris personally. We listen in awe and have even danced with memories of young lovers in this our 51st year of marriage. You are unforgettable Don. Thanks for being part of our lives.

  21. Judy

    I am so sorry to learn of the death of Don Cornell. I signed his guest book not knowing he had passed. I had seen Mr. Cornell in Las Vagas with my sister, and never enjoyed a voice so much. I was 27 and to this day I still like love songs. I’m Yours and Hold My Hand are two of my favorites to this day. His voice will carry on for years to come even after his death. Iris my sympathy to you. God Bless you. Judy Glore

  22. Lou Spina

    We lost another great singer, ole brown eyes.
    I remember when he and Tony Alamo were singing with Sammy Kaye. It isn’t Fair, alone, would have set him apart, but to follow up with a string of hits such as he had, elevates him to super star status – – -He will be missed
    Does anyone remember “My mothers Pearls ”

  23. Bill Watson

    I, a 17 year old sailor, sitting on Guam in 1951, had little to do to bust up the boredom knowing I was going to be stuck there for 18 months. One night a buddy in my quonset hut got a 45 rpm from home. He played it. The song was I’ll Walk Alone. The singer was Don Cornell. When Cornell hit that high note with such power, it knocked me out. I managed to buy the record from my buddy (at an exorbitant cost) and kept it through 4 years of the Navy and for many years after I got out, finally losing track of it when it was so scratchy that the needle kept jumping. But Don Cornell lives on in my memory today and thank God I’ll never forget him. My wife died many years ago and she loved Cornell, too. I remarried several years ago and haven’t been able to introduce her to Don Cornell’s voice. She is a staunch believer that Tony Bennett is unbeatable. Since she has no evidence to the contrary, I’ll accept that, I guess.



  25. andy crawford

    It was a great pleasure for me to find this site
    as I can never get the straines of ‘It Is’nt Fair’out of my mind,what a great job Don made of
    that song,it is truly unforgetable.
    During the period of it’s release it was my part
    of my job as an apprentice cinema projectionist
    to pick up three 78rpm records from the local
    store every Monday morning,2 vocal and 1 non-vocal,and that’s when I first came to discover
    Don Cornell.
    I only ever heard his vesion with Sammy Kaye and
    I often wonder if he has done an other vesion,
    if so maybe someone would be kind enough to let me know.
    By the way I am still working as a cinema projectionist.

  26. Marlene

    When I was a young teenager in Michigan, I had the pleasure of seeing Don in person. What a thrill when he sang “Size 12” to men on stage. Years later in Merrillville,Ind. I saw him again in person and had my picture taken with him again. What a wonderful memory for me. I was truly saddened to hear of his passing.

  27. Bob Key

    In the 1950s, I met my wife in Wichita, Kansas. We fell in love while listening to Don Cornell’s tune, “Hold My Hand.” It is still my favorite. God bless you Don Cornell.

  28. Bill

    As a young boy in the who grew up during the 60’s and 70’s, I remember my father playing his favorite 45’s. Don Cornell’s “It Isn’t Fair” or “Hold My Hand” could always be heard throughout the house. Those were some of my favorite memories growing up. To see my father become so excited and awestruck at the sound of Mr. Cornell’s voice…even though he had heard the recording a thousand times before was trully amazing! He would always say, “OK, get ready now. Here comes the big finish”. Everyone would smile and agree with him that it was a great finish. My dad’s been gone now, 13 years today, December 17th. I miss him greatly. I thought this would be a great tribute to Mr. Cornell and one of his biggest fans. Thank you for the memories.

  29. David Croft

    While watching Turner Classic Movies over Christmas with my mother who just turned 90, I heard HOLD MY HAND while watching SUSAN SLEPT HERE. Don’s voice was captivating, dreamy and beautiful. Both mom and I (I’m 54) agreed that it was a better voice than Sinatra. Sorry Frankie, but Don had you beat. Wishing I had heard him earlier.
    -Dave Croft, Tampa, FL

  30. Les Ratcliff

    I have come across Don Cornell again after many years . I vividly recall singing along to that wonderful version of Hold My Hand. This was recently played at the funeral of my cousin’s dear wife,and was a favourite record of hers .A beautiful rendition . It is wonderful that these recordings are available and will carry the memory of Don into the future

  31. Mike

    My 12 years older than me sister had a crush for Don Cornell and when I went to Sydney in 1956 Don was in the Stan Freberg Show.We went & I bought his Souvenir of first Australian Tour (Don Cornell Sings) Record for Sis.Sis has since died and her family gave it back to me.. I played it yesterday Coral LP C10-1156.Songs= Grazie,Could you,Rock Island Line,Na-Ne Na-Na, Young Abe Lincoln,It isnt fair,Stay as sweet as you are,Teenage meeting,I still have a prayer,Dream world..When he sang his first number It isnt fair at the Sydney Stadium.The young Ladies screamed.Sad he has gone ..mike

  32. Margaret Sutton

    I am so sad to hear of Don’passing. I have to say one of the most unforgetable and thrilling monents in my life was when I went to a dance with my finance in Orlando , Fla where Don was singing with Sammy Kaye’s band in 1950. Don picked me to come up on stage to sing “It Isn’t Fair” to me. he was my favorite singer then and now. I will miss him and I send my sincerest
    condolences to his wife, Iris.
    Margaret Sutton

  33. joe velasquez

    i am 63 years old, and i remember the big band sounds of the forties and early fifties. the song it isn’t fair by don brings back nostalgic memories of the wonderful sounds that my parents grew with and that i so distinctley remnember. what loss here in earth and what a gain for heaven.

  34. Robert G. Pozza

    What a voice what a sound. Saw him at summer Fest in Mil. WI. His songs still send thrills to these old bones. It isn’t Fair that we have lost such a great artist.


    I have always enjoyed the singing of Don Cornell. In fact, he has recorded my most favorite rock ‘n’ roll song of all time. It is called TEENAGE MEETING (Gonna Rock it up Right Tonight) from 1956. I was so happy when I found out it was finally released on a CD. I was able to meet Don Cornell once and I got him to sign my 45 rpm record of the song. You should have seen the look on his face when I told him he recorded my most favorite rock ‘n’ roll record of all time. I will always remember that day and it was a pleasure to meet him.
    Glendale, CA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *