Introduction to Don Costa

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Introduction

Don Costa was an American record producer and music arranger, known for his collaborations with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Lloyd Price, George Hamilton IV, Paul Anka, Sarah Vaughan, Barbara Streisand, Tony Bennett and most notably, Frank Sinatra. Costa became Sinatra’s arranger when the latter invited him to work on one of his albums, Sinatra and Strings which became and still remains one of the most critically lauded Sinatra albums during the 60s music era. He also arranged the music for one of the most popular and enduring Sinatra songs, “My Way,” which is now an enduring oldies music classic. Costa’s own recordings, most notably “Never On Sunday” (theme music of the popular Greek film of the same title) and “The Theme from The Unforgiven” became big hits in 1960. Costa also formed and headed his own company DCP International, which helped in reviving the career of the 1950s doo-wop vocal group Little Anthony and the Imperials. Costa still actively worked in the music industry until heart attack claimed his life in 1983. He was 57 years old.

Early years

Primarily known as an arranger, orchestra leader and conductor, Don Acosta (real name: Dominick P. Costa) was born on June 10, 1925 in Boston, Massachusetts to an Italian-American family. In his childhood days, he developed an aptitude and interest in learning the guitar. During his teens Costa became a member of the CBS Radio Orchestra. He relocated to New York City where he worked as a studio musician and at the same time, struggled to become an established arranger.  On Vaugh Monroe’s hit record “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” he played guitar along with jazz guitarist and banjoist Bucky Pizzarelli. That was the time he started to experiment combinations of instruments and producing musical arrangements in several big bands.

Music career

Things started to click when Costa was invited by singers Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme to write some vocal backgrounds for their upcoming recordings. He took the offer  which led him to join the ABC Paramount Records where he became the label’s lead A&R man and chief arranger and producer. Aside from the hits from Lawrence and Gorme, he had some of his biggest successes with hits by Paul Anka, Lloyd Price and George Hamilon IV to name a few. Since Costa was also a great guitarist, he issued a couple of 45s on ABC Paramount under the alias Guitar ‘Muvva’ Hubbard. It included a good version of Bill Justis’ big hit “Raunchy” and the first R&B-styled “Ponytail” which was a self-penned track. He was voted in the weekly defunct magazine Cash Box as the most popular recording arranger and conductor by that time.

Along with Lawrence and Gorme, Costa left ABC-Paramount and switched to the United Artists label in 1951 where he released his own instrumental albums under his own name. He released three singles from the United Artists that entered the Billboard charts; “I Walk the Line” (#59, 1959), “Theme from the Unforgiven” (#27, 1960) and “Never on Sunday” (#19, 1960). “Never on Sunday” sold over one million copies and was gained a gold disc status. In 1960, the track also entered the UK chart at #27.

Costa moved to Hollywood in the early 1960’s and built his own production company named  Don Costa Productions. There, he had his own talents including Trini Lopez (“If I Had A Hammer”) and Little Anthony and the Imperials. Subsequently, Costa was hired by Frank Sinatra for his own recording label (Reprise Records)  to arrange one of his albums, Sinatra and Strings which was issued in 1962. Among the standout tracks on Sinatra and Strings are “All or Nothing at All,” “Stardust,”  “Night and Day” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.” He also became Sinatra’s main arranger and conductor and later, producer. During this period, Sinatra scored one of his breakthrough hits, the Anka-penned “My Way.”

In 1963 Costa arranged Sarah Vaughan’s album Snowbound and also for Tony Bennett’s album If I Ruled the World: Songs for the Jet Set in 1965.

By the end of the 1960’s, Costa was working with MGM Records along with Mike Curb producing and arranging material of the Osmond Brothers, Sammy Davis (“The Candy Man”) and Petula Clark (“My Guy”).

Costa released another hit with his 10-year old daughter Nikka, “Out Here On My Own” during the early 1980s. The father-and-daughter tandem was having plans to release another record when Costa was claimed by a heart attack in New York City on January 19, 1983. He was 57 years old.

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