Harry Prime, Big band vocalist, 97

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Harry Prime, 97, a Big Band vocalist who toured and recorded with some of the most prominent orchestras of the 1940s and 1950s, died of natural causes Friday at his home in Chalfont, where he lived with a son.

A Philadelphia native, Mr. Prime was born March 5, 1920 in East Falls and attended St. Bridget Elementary School and Roman Catholic High School, according to his son, Kevin Prime. After a failed career in baseball, Mr. Prime got his start in music in 1944 when he performed at amateur night at the 400 Club in Washington, D.C. Soon he ditched his job at the post office to perform weekly at the club. Its owner sent him to the recording studio, where his voice attracted the attention of  the big band leader Jimmy Dorsey, who hired Mr. Prime to tour with his musicians.

Throughout the `40s and `50s Mr. Prime sang with the orchestras of Randy Brooks, Tommy Dorsey, Jack Fina and Ralph Flanagan, earning a sponsorship deal with Chesterfield cigarettes. He recorded nearly 100 songs, including the ballad “Until” with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, which sold over 1 million records.

A 1950 Billboard poll ranked his band, the Ralph Flanagan Orchestra, the best in the country, and ranked him as the 20th-best singer, ahead of Eddie Fisher, Dennis Day and Dean Martin.

Changing tastes and the decline of big band music led him to move back to the Philadelphia area in 1954 to work in radio. He was a disc jockey and radio host at stations including WCAU-AM in Philadelphia and WNPV-AM in Lansdale. In 1974 when his wife Marie died, leaving behind four children under the age of 11, Mr. Prime became what his son Kevin described as “a full time dad.”

His love for music continued into his later years as he entertained locally. From 2002 to 2009, Mr. Prime sang at the Roasted Pepper in Chalfont, living in an apartment over the restaurant and developing a small following.

After the restaurant was sold in 2009 Mr. Prime performed several times in the lobby of Meridian condominiums in Warrington at the offer of his friend Ron Astle. Astle was a close a friend who for several years booked Mr. Prime gigs at local venues and drove him to performances as Prime’s macular degeneration left him unable to drive.

After Astle moved to Florida with his wife six years ago, Mr. Prime continued to perform at the Epicure Café in East Falls, and occasionally sang at private venues and birthday parties. His love for baseball, music and his family endured throughout his life.

In addition to Kevin Prime, he is survived by sons Greg and Rick, his daughter, Kim, and seven grandchildren as well as three children from a previous marriage: John, Harry and Bethenia, according to Scanlin Funeral Home. The family will hold a private memorial service in July.

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