Cherie DeCastro, last surviving member of the DeCastro Sisters singing trio, whose biggest hit “Teach Me Tonight” sold more than 5 million copies in 1954 and continues to be one of the great classic recordings, died of pneumonia March 14 in Las Vegas. She was 87.
The DeCastro Sisters — Peggy, Cherie and Babette — were born to an American Ziegfeld Follies showgirl and a Cuban aristocrat whose Havana mansion was seized by Fidel Castro.
Cherie Dawn DeCastro was born in New York City.
The DeCastro Sisters, always strongly chaperoned, began their singing careers as young girls and promoted themselves as a Cuban version of the Andrews Sisters.
They immigrated to Miami in 1942, where they were seen by an agent from General Artists Corp. (now ICM) and booked into New York’s Copacabana with the Will Mastin Trio featuring Sammy Davis Jr.
As their careers took off, their act became more flamboyant and they worked across the country including the Palladium in Hollywood, where they sang with Tito Puente’s band and made their first recordings.
In 1946, they provided several of the bird and animal voices for Walt Disney’s animated “Song of the South,” including the Oscar-winning “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”
They appeared on screen with Carmen Miranda and Groucho Marx in 1947’s “Copacabana.” The same year they joined Bob Hope and Cecil B. DeMille on the live premiere broadcast special launching KTLA in Los Angeles, the first telecast west of the Mississippi. The sisters were introduced by Hope and sang “Babalu.”
In 1954, the more Americanized DeCastro Sisters were signed by a small country label, Abbott Records. Their first release featured “It’s Love” as the A-side, backed by an obscure Sammy Cahn-Gene DePaul song called “Teach Me Tonight” that had been suggested at the last minute by their bass player.
The label was pushing “It’s Love,” but Cleveland disc jockey Bill Randall turned the record over and “Teach Me Tonight” soon took the nation by storm, peaking at No. 2 on the charts and selling more than 5 million copies to date.
Several more recordings followed including “Too Late Now,” “Boom Boom Boomerang,” “Snowbound for Christmas,” “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming” and numerous albums on a variety of labels including RCA Victor, ABC-Paramount, Capitol and 20th Century Fox.
Now major headliners, they shared the bill with Noel Coward when he made his Las Vegas debut at the Desert Inn in 1954. They were part of another historic engagement in 1959, when they joined the Las Vegas debuts of George Burns as a solo act and a young singer named Bobby Darin at the Sahara.
The DeCastro Sisters appeared on most major TV shows and made numerous film shorts including Universal’s “Swingin’ and Singin’ ” with Maynard Ferguson and “Riot in Rhythm” with Harry James.
At various times Peggy and Babette took leave from the act and were replaced by a cousin Olgita, so Cherie was the only sister who was part of every appearance and recording that the group ever made.
In 1997, they were part of KTLA’s 50th anniversary broadcast in Los Angeles and headlined at the Hollywood Roosevelt’s Cinegrill. Three years later, they were inducted in the Casino Legends Hall of Fame as Las Vegas Living Legends.
Cherie continued to perform until shortly before her illness and sang “Teach Me Tonight” on the 2006 PBS special “Moments to Remember: My Music,” which is still periodically shown and is out on DVD.
Babette died in 1992, Olgita in 2000 and Peggy in 2004.
Cherie is survived by longtime partner Trevor Young and several nieces and nephews. Donations may be made to the Animal Foundation in Las Vegas (702-384-3333).