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Ruth Casey; singer hosted Hub talent show

By Gloria Negri
Globe Staff / July 18, 2012
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Ruth Casey was 22 on Jan. 7, 1951, when her singing voice was heard nationwide during a performance on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” television show on CBS.

The next day, TV critic John Crosby reported in the Globe that “Sullivan introduced her as ‘a very charming little star’ ” and that when she finished, Sullivan said: “You did wonderfully well, Ruth. A grand job!” Crosby wrote that Ms. Casey was “not only good to look at, but delightful to hear.”

“The thousands of friends she must have made last evening will never again listen to ‘Black Magic’ without thinking of her,” he wrote.

A few years earlier, record companies had discovered her contralto voice and signed her to a recording contract when she was 17, according to Helen Sullivan of Roslindale, a former Boston journalist and longtime friend.

“Ruth had a multifaceted and distinguished career in the field of entertainment,” said Sullivan, who added that after launching a career as “a teenage singing sensation,” Ms. Casey sang in nightclubs in Boston and New York, once she was old enough.

Ms. Casey, who also worked with film director and actor John Huston and traveled the world to various film locations, died of congestive heart failure June 28 in Neville Center at Fresh Pond, a Cambridge nursing and rehabilitation facility. She was 84 and had lived for many years in the Roslindale home where she grew up.

In 1950, Ms. Casey landed an audition with Sullivan, and planned to sing four songs when the television host visited Boston. He had to leave after one, but said she would have a chance to sing on his show soon.

“It’s the kind of thing that you dream about,” Ms. Casey told the Globe in December 1950. She added that her mother “was knocked right over when she heard about the television business with Ed Sullivan, and I guess I was, too.”

Only 4 when she started singing around the house, Ms. Casey began her career under the guidance of Dolphe Martin a few years later.

She joined “Youth on Parade,” a CBS radio show Martin headed on WEEI-AM. Martin, who became her manager, “immediately named her leading lady for her fine singing and ability to act,” the Globe reported in 1963.

The long-running amateur talent show moved to television, and Ms. Casey became a producer and hostess.

Richard Campana of Boston was a teenager when he performed on the radio version of “Youth on Parade.”

“Ruth had a fabulous voice,” he recalled. With her rich contralto, he said, she was “our out-front solo­ist.”

“She had an amazing twinkle in her eyes and a fantastic singing voice,” said her nephew, Stephen D. Casey of Columbus, Ohio.

After the television version of “Youth on Parade” went off the air in the late 1960s, Ms. Casey had offers to do voice-over commercials in New York and established a production company.

Her nephew said she recorded voice-over commercials for major companies and gained attention for her recording of “Cry,” a song written by Churchill Kohlman.

Ms. Casey was the youngest of nine children born to Irish immigrant parents, Thomas and Anne (O’Reilly) Casey.

Upon arriving in the United States, the couple lived in Jamaica Plain, where Ruth was born, before the family moved to Roslindale.

Ms. Casey’s mother had been an apprentice actress in Irish theater before emigrating, and she also was an accordion player and dancer. In the United States, the entire family was musical.

“All the brothers had to sing and dance in minstrel shows,” Ms. Casey’s nephew said.

Among Ms. Casey’s siblings who left Boston to pursue careers was Eileen, who became a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. When she suffered a near-fatal attack of appendicitis, “Ruth suspended her own singing career and returned to Boston to care for Eileen,” Helen Sullivan said.

Back in Boston, Ms. Casey and Eileen opened a talent studio in a remodeled gas station at the corner of Weld and Centre streets in West Roxbury. ­Eileen also helped Ms. Casey on “Youth on Parade” as a talent coordinator.

In 1964, Ms. Casey spoke about ‘Youth on Parade’ in an interview with the Boston Sunday Advertiser.

“There are no losers on our program,” she said. “We just want to present the performers without going into the business of choosing a winner. It’s often not fair and can be unnecessarily discouraging to talented young people who are still at the amateur stage.”

Ms. Casey added that she relished the “real opportunity to teach these youngsters. We have a music school nursery for 3- to 5-year-olds, and they learn dancing, piano, rhythm instruments, and elocution, all in a fun way.”

A funeral Mass has been said for Ms. Casey, who was the last surviving sibling in her family, in Holy Name Church in West Roxbury.

Sister Elish McPartland, who is a member of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, was among Ms. Casey’s good friends at the church and recalled her “big Irish blue eyes.”

“She was a woman filled with gratitude who knew she had had a wonderful, interesting life and never bragged about it,” McPartland said.

“I think of her devotion to her family and her sister ­Eileen,” McPartland said, “and when I think of her, I think of Micah in the Hebrew Scriptures, who exhorts us to live justly, love tenderly, and ‘walk humbly with your God.’ ”

Gloria Negri can be reached at

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