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Harry Prime, big band vocalist, 97

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s he performed as a big band vocalist with the orchestras of Randy Brooks, Tommy Dorsey, Jack Fina and Ralph Flanagan.

Harry Prime sings and entertains in 2010 at a Warrington condo complex
Harry Prime sings and entertains in 2010 at a Warrington condo complexRead moreMichael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer

Harry Prime, 97, of Chalfont, a big band vocalist who toured and recorded with some of the most prominent orchestras of the 1940s and 1950s, died of natural causes Thursday, June 15, at his home, where he lived with a son.

Mr. Prime was born on March 5, 1920, in East Falls and attended St. Bridget Elementary School and Roman Catholic High School, according to his son, Kevin. 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. 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 more than one million records.

A 1950 Billboard poll ranked his then-band, the Ralph Flanagan Orchestra, the best in the country, and 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 second wife, Marie, died, leaving behind four children under age 11, Mr. Prime became what his son 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 the Meridian condominium building in Warrington at the request of his friend Ron Astle. Astle for several years booked gigs for Mr. Prime at local venues and drove him to performances as macular degeneration left Mr. Prime 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.

In addition to his son, he is survived by sons Greg, Rick, John and Harry; daughters Kim and Bethenia; and seven grandchildren.

The family will hold a private memorial service in July.