Born: May 10, 1899 Died: June 22, 1987
Without question, he was one of the greatest all-around performers in motion picture history, though his vocal skills were among the least of his talents. Indeed, to overstate Fred Astaire's average musical ability only serves to demean his genius as a dancer. The extreme athleticism and rhythmic sophistication of his dance was masked by an air of off-handed suaveness that emphasized an utter control of his medium. That same delivery, transposed to song, revealed a genial, somewhat rhythmically astute, but ultimately unexceptional vocalist whose limitations could not be hidden by strong material and/or a winning personality. Astaire's warbling mezzo tenor was little more than a slightly melodicized extension of his speaking voice, charming, perhaps, and certainly effective given the relatively low artistic standards of the run-of-the-mill Hollywood film, yet no more profound than one of their typically threadbare plots. In the '30s Astaire and Ginger Rogers co-starred in a series of superficial but often quite witty musical comedies, such as Roberta, Top Hat, and Shall We Dance? The most important songwriters of the '30s and '40s wrote songs especially for him, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin among them. He was often the first to sing songs that would become standards and Berlin purportedly preferred Astaire's renditions of his tunes to those of any other vocalist.