Charlie Gracie, Rock’n’Roll Original Of ‘Butterfly’ And ‘Fabulous’ Fame, Dies At 86
Gracie’s early releases were a significant influence on many young fans who became part of music’s next generation, including Paul McCartney and Van Morrison.
Charlie Gracie, the original rock’n’roller whose 1957 smash “Butterfly” was a multi-million-selling signature song of the era, died on December 17. He was 86. His Rock Hall Facebook page has not officially confirmed his passing at this writing, but has promised an announcement to fans today (19).
The early releases by the Philadelphia native were a significant influence on many young music fans who became part of the next generation of stars, especially across the Atlantic. The Beatles (and especially Paul McCartney and George Harrison), Van Morrison, and Graham Nash are among many who admired his recordings for the Cameo-Parkway label. Gracie formed a lifelong bond with his British fans and often visited the UK to perform, both during his early success and later in his career.
He was born Charles Anthony Graci on May 14, 1936, and began to play guitar at the age of ten, after an early flirtation with saxophone. His precocious talent won him a spot on bandleader Paul Whiteman’s Teen Show in 1950, and his first recording, for the Cadillac label, was the single “Boogie-Woogie Blues,” as early as 1951. He also recorded for 20th Century and was a regular performer on Bandstand, later American Bandstand.
Gracie’s career accelerated when he met pianist Bernie Lowe, who signed him to his new Cameo label in 1956. Soon he was recording “Butterfly,” written by Lowe and Kal Mann, and by early 1957 it was starting its rise up the Billboard chart, on which it spent two weeks at No.1 in April. In the era of multiple recordings of the same song, a rival version by Andy Williams also topped the pop charts in both the US and UK, where Gracie’s single reached No.12.
The same year, he was swiftly back among the bestsellers in both countries with “Fabulous,” a Top 20 hit at home that emphasized Gracie’s transatlantic popularity by reaching No.8 in the UK. He toured there in 1957 and again in 1958. Sadly, that marked an end of his major hit period, and he made the US chart only once more, in the summer of 1957, with “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” a cover of Jimmy Wakely’s country No.1 of the 40s. A minor US success, it nevertheless became the biggest UK of his hits at No.6. Gracie had one further chart showing there in 1960, with “Cool Baby.”
He went on to record for such labels as Coral, Roulette, Felsted, and Diamond, and toured extensively in the US and Europe well into the 2000s as a much-loved representative of the first wave of rock’n’roll. In 2011, ABKCO released For The Love of Charlie, a tribute set produced by Al Kooper and Quentin Jones, which featured Gracie himself with such guests as Graham Nash and Peter Noone. With his on, he also hosted the radio series A Fabulous Hour with Charlie Gracie from 2011 to 2016 on the New Jersey station WVLT.
In 1999, McCartney covered “Fabulous” for his affectionate celebration of the era, Run Devil Run, on which it was added to a boxed set edition, and invited Gracie to its launch. It then appeared on McCartney’s late 2022 The 7” Singles box. In 2019, well into his 80s, Gracie toured the UK once again with Marty Wilde, Mike Berry, and others.