In television’s “golden era” of the 1950s and 1960s, when the new medium elevated well-rounded entertainers to wide audiences, Caterina Valente gained worldwide acclaim as a singer, guitarist, and dancer with impeccable stage and screen presence.
Valente was born in Paris, France in 1931 and is of Italian descent. She comes from a long lineage of vaudevillians and musicians, including her accordion-playing father and musical clown mother. Her lengthy and prolific career spanned nearly 50 years, with more than 1,500 songs recorded in various languages and over 18 million records sold globally. This longevity was due in part to Valente’s embracing of various vocal and guitar styles, from American jazz to Brazilian bossa nova.
Notable early career performances range from her breakout European hit, a German language version of Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris” from 1954, to a 1957 duet with Bill Haley, “Vive le Rock and Roll,” for German film Hier Bin Ich Hier Bleib Ich. Other collaborations, on recordings or television, featured a who’s-who of the era—Chet Baker, Jack Sperling, Ella Fitzgerald, and numerous others.
Valente’s wide range of talents made her a regular guest on variety television shows on both sides of the Atlantic, back when there were just a handful of channels in most markets. In the US, she made numerous television appearances for one of her most visible and vocal fans at the time, Perry Como.
In one clip from the Dean Martin Show that’s made the rounds online, she proves to be the host’s musical and comedic match. Valente’s popularity in the states peaked in 1965 with her co-starring gig on CBS variety show The Entertainers, alongside comedy heavy-hitters Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett.
Although changing trends in music and television caused Valente’s star to fade somewhat in the US, she remained a prominent entertainer in Europe until her retirement in 2003.
Valente’s talent as a guitarist alone makes her a legend, and her music opened the door for her to become a television star responsible for introducing multicultural sounds to living rooms in several countries.