Caterina was born into an Italian circus family circa 1932. He father Giuseppe was a well known accordion player and her mother Maria Valente, a musical clown. She started her stage career early as a child performer and joined her three siblings, but only Silvio Francesco pursued a career in show business. As Caterina grew older she began to sing and was a guitar virtuoso. She performed in Europe as a singer for several years and thanks to her first husband Erik van Aro (Gerd Eric Horst Scholz) who recognized her talent and encouraged her. In 1953 she joined Kurt Edelhagen’s band in Germany. Kurt Edelhagen was a well-respected bandleader whose orchestras played swinging dance music with boppish solos. A recording contract with Polydor soon followed and her recording career took off. Ganz Paris träumt von der Liebe (1954) sold 500,000 copies and is considered typical of Schlager music. Today the style is considered rather camp and frequently is seen at the Eurovision Song Contest. Schlager music was characterised by sweet, overly sentimental ballads with a simple and memorable melody on the one hand and light, pleasant and forgettable pop tunes and arrangements on the other hand. Lyrics were typically centred on love and relationships. The style was spearheaded by artists like Caterina and started in the mid fifties but has increasingly been replaced by other pop music styles.
One secret to her European success was wherever she was popular people instantly mistook her as being native singer to that country. Caterina could sing in twelve different languages and was a polyglot. International success came with songs from Cuban composer Enesto Lecuona, Malagueña* (later an English cover version by Connie Francis was released -1960), and "The Breeze and I" (Analucia), followed by "Dreh dich nicht um" and all were recorded with the Werner Müller orchestra and opened up her International career.
During the early '60s she scored several hits including "Itsy Bity Teenie Weenie Honolulu Strand Bikini," and "Quando, Quando, Quando." Her version of "La Golondrina" appeared on one of the first charity albums, 1963's All Star Festival. The proceeds from that album went to aid refugees.
Between 1966 and 1972 she was a frequent guest on the Dean Martin Show (at least a dozen times), Danny Kaye, Perry Como and Bing Crosby often featured her too. Over the years, she has recorded or performed with many international stars, including Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Buddy Rich, Sly Oliver, Claus Ogerman, and Chet Baker.
The singer in her prime worked on average 7 months out of each year dedicated to concerts and night club appearances, worldwide, although there was no record of her ever appearing in Australia. Her touring orchestra was led by Horst Jankowski's (A Walk in the Black Forest) and she appeared with her brother Silvio Francesco. By this time Caterina was a well respected swing and scat singer in the jazz tradition. The remaining months she reserved for recording sessions, TV-appearances, movies and a month’s vacation with her sons. In 1954 Caterina turned her hand to acting and appeared in the movie "Mannequins fűr Rio" A year later she featured with Gordon McCrae (Desert Song, Oklahoma, and Carousel fame) on the TV show “Colgate Comedy Hour," confirming her popularity with US audiences. A whole new acting career opened and she went on to appear in a further fourteen films (including 12 European movie-musicals and Tittertime with Frankie Howard).
In 1972, she married the British pianist Roy Budd; they had a son, Alexander, but they divorced in 1979. In 1983 Caterina cut down on extensive travelling in order to spend more time at home with her family, and has limited her appearances to the European continent. She celebrated her 84th birthday in January 2015.
Worth a listen:
Caterina Valente (Kurt Edelhagen & His Orchestra)
Caterina Valente (Werner Muller & His Orchestra)
Ganz Paris träumt von der Liebe (1954)
The Breeze and I (1955),
Itsy Bity Teenie Weenie Honolulu Strand Bikini