The Toe Tapping Ted Fio Rito

Something about the way he styled his name caused me to assume that Ted Fio Rito (1900-71) was one of those Latin bandleaders, like Vincent Lopez or Xavier Cugat. His given surname was actually rendered Fiorito, and he was Italian.

Born and raised in Newark, Fio Rito came from a musical family; his mother had been an opera singer. Early in his career he worked for Al Piantadosi as a piano player, demoing his sheet music. He also worked as a session musician for Harry Yerkes and his various combos starting around 1919. Fio Rito joined Dan Russo’s Chicago based band in 1921, becoming co-leader of the outfit with months. It was the Russo-Fio Rito Orchestra until 1928, at which point Russo dropped out, leaving the band to Fio Rito. In 1924 Lee de Forest made a Phonofilm based on the song “Oh, Mabel!” cowritten by Fio Rito and Gus Kahn. Fio Rito also co-wrote Tin Pan Alley songs with Sam Lewis, Cecil Mack, and Albert Von Tilzer.

Throughout the 20s, 30s and 40s, Fio Rito’s orchestra was popular on radio and recordings, and were in over a dozen Hollywood films, both shorts and features. His singers at various times included Harriet Lee, Ted Lewis, Candy CandidoBetty GrableJune Haver, Billy Murray, Muzzy Marcellino, Patti Palmer (Mrs. Jerry Lewis), the Debutantes, the Mahoney Sisters, and others. Fio Rito and his band appeared in the shorts Air Tonic (1933), What Price Jazz (1934), The Dancing Millionaire (1934), Star Night at the Coconut Grove (1934), This Band Age (1935), Sea Melody (1938), Skyline Serenade (1941), Chasing the Blues (1942), and Synco-Smooth Swing (1945), and the features The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (1933), Twenty Million Sweethearts (1934), Broadway Gondolier (1935), Every Night at Eight (1935), Rhythm Parade (1942), Silver Skates (1943), Melody Parade (1943) and Out of This World (1945).

IMDB shows only one television credit; he played piano (apparently without his band) on the Colgate Comedy Hour in 1953. By then he had drastically downsized to a small combo for his live dates, though he continued playing live, touring mostly western states through the 1960s.

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.