Nick Perito, Nicholas Perito (April 7, 1924 – August 4, 2005) was a Hollywood composer and arranger and, for 40 years, the closest collaborator of singer Perry Como.
Born in Denver, Perito’s start in music was at an early age, when he received an accordion as a gift from his parents. Both his uncle and brother encouraged his learning by gifts of sheet music; as he mastered one song, he would then be given a new one as an incentive. Nick Perito started performing at parties at a young age and received a scholarship to the Lamont School of Music, studying at the University of Denver.
Being drafted in 1943 took him to New York, where he served as an Army medic in World War II; he also played piano and did musical arrangements for the Army band. The band musicians were given passes on weekends if there were no military engagements for them and were allowed to pick up jobs during this time. Nick Perito remained in New York after World War II, entering the Juilliard School of Music and graduating from the college in 1949.
Nick Perito went home to Denver to marry his high school sweetheart, Judy Stone, and worked at Denver’s KOA with his own weekday radio program in 1946. The couple then settled in New York, where he worked as a songwriter, arranger, and accordion/piano session musician. Perito also had his own band that had a permanent spot at Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Restaurant, owned by the boxer. His first association with Perry Como came through Como’s arranger, Ray Charles, in the early 1950s. Como had recorded a novelty song, “Hoop-De-Doo”, and Nick Perito was hired to accompany him on accordion for television performances of the song. He became the musical director of United Artists Records in 1961.
In 1963, Como’s musical conductor, Mitchell Ayres, wanted to hire some new arrangers for Como’s television show; Ray Charles recommended Nick Perito to Ayres. When Ayres left to take a job as the conductor of The Hollywood Palace, Perito became the singer’s music director and conductor. Como credited Perito with the idea of making his 1987 album, Today. Perito worked with Como through his last performance: his Irish Christmas special in 1994. When Mitchell Ayres was killed in a traffic accident in 1969, former Como show producer Nick Vanoff, who was now with The Hollywood Palace, suggested Perito as Ayres’ replacement.
Perito’s other credits include the Kennedy Center Honors, where he again worked with Vanoff. He was also the musical director for the American Film Institute awards, as well as The Don Knotts Variety Show, Andy Williams and Bing Crosby television specials. Perito wrote the music for the 1968 film, Don’t Just Stand There with Robert Wagner and Mary Tyler Moore. In the same year, Nick Perito played the accordion on the only solo vocal album of his friend and associate, Ray Charles, Memories of a Middle-Aged Movie Fan. Perito was also an influential arranger of muzak in the late 1960s and early 70s.
He became the musical director for Bob Hope in 1993, and also worked with Hope’s wife, Dolores, when she decided to pick up her singing career after 60 years. Nick Perito played accordion for actor Paul Sorvino’s PBS musical special in 1996. Perito, along with musicians Dick Grove and Allyn Ferguson, was a founder and partner in the Grove School of Music in Van Nuys, California. The school was accredited in 1979 but could no longer afford to keep its doors open by 1991.
His work earned Nick Perito a dozen Emmy nominations. He published his memoirs, I Just Happened to Be There: Making Music with the Stars in 2004, a year before his death of pulmonary fibrosis in Hollywood