Friday, November 26, 2021

Ginny Mancini dies; big band singer, Los Angeles philanthropist and widow of composer Henry Mancini

Ginny Mancini, a jazz singer during the heyday of the big band era who became a generous sponsor of Los Angeles concert halls as well as small and often struggling music academies for children, died at her home in Malibu.

One of Hollywood’s leading philanthropists, Mancini, died on October 25. She was 97 years old.

In the post-war era, she joined band leader Mel Torm straight from Los Angeles City College, and then joined the Tex Beneke Orchestra as a member of the Mello-Larks. Beneke recently took over the Glenn Miller Orchestra and was looking for new talent. He found this in the young jazz singer as well as the talented pianist and arranger Henry Mancini.

They got married in 1947. Henry Mancini’s career soon skyrocketed, making him one of the most popular and best-known composers for films and television series of the 20th century, with 72 Grammy nominations and 18 Oscar nominations.

While Henry Mancini was writing scores for films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther and Peter Gunn, Ginny Mancini threw herself into action. She founded a group that raised millions to help singers in troubled times, was president of the Los Angeles Academy of Music, which encouraged young musicians, and was director emeritus of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

At the end of her life, Ginny Mancini received a letter from the nonprofit Boyle Heights that caught her attention. She had never heard of it, but the image of the converted cottage attracted attention. She later told Times columnist Steve Lopez that this was the kind of place she wanted to escape to as a child. Young students, as she imagined, were very similar to her – difficult but talented.

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She wrote the first of several checks to the local music school. When she visited the neat academy, where mainly Hispanics were trained, she was amazed at her warmth.

“I was able to relate this to my childhood and how much I would rate this school,” she said. “It really resonated with me.”

Ginny Mancini at her Holmby Hills home. She was one of Hollywood’s leading philanthropists.

(Los Angeles Times)

She was born Virginia O’Connor in Los Angeles on July 25, 1925, and her childhood was one of the upheavals. Her father was from Ireland and her mother was from Mexico, and they met while picking cherries in the San Fernando Valley. The marriage fell apart, and young Ginny grew up, spoke Spanish, and was raised by a loving grandmother and great-grandmother who came from the so-called “long line of strong Mexican women.”

The family moved frequently, and Ginny helped wherever they landed: the ice cone factory in Boyle Heights, the dry cleaning in Hollywood, the sheet metal factory in San Pedro.

She learned to play the piano as a child and went on to sing at El Monte High School and Los Angeles City College, before joining Torma and then Beneke. In the 1950s, she sang in film studio choirs and on various television programs such as The Red Skelton Show and The Judy Garland Show.

She then founded the Society of Singers, a non-profit organization for struggling musicians, and was president of the Henry Mancini Institute, a Los Angeles academy that encouraged young musicians. She was also director emeritus of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Mancini is survived by two daughters, Monica and Felice; son Chris; two grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter. Henry Mancini died of cancer in 1994. All three of her children are passionate about music.

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