East Falls says goodbye to beloved hometown boy Harry Prime, one of the last remaining Big Band legends in the world who died suddenly (of natural causes) in his home June 15th at the ripe age of 97.
He lived almost a century, but it’s still hard to believe such a vigorous spirit is gone. Although dogged by chronic impairments in his last days, Harry had remained sharp as a tack and was looking forward to performing again for friends and family as soon as he was able.
“He was a great singer and storyteller, I’m really glad I knew him,” said Tom Leschak of Epicure Cafe, where Harry wowed his last audience in 2015 — and where Harry grew up in the 40’s, in the apartment above what used to be a market.
We had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Harry in 2014, when he toured Hohenadel House before his big show in the mansion’s grand ballroom. More than a hundred neighbors danced and celebrated the return of a local landmark, and Harry lit up the evening with romantic melodies.
Hearing him sing, you’d never have guessed Harry’s age. He sung with the heart and spirit of a teenager. And he had style on stage — he could really sell a song! Like Sinatra or Dean Martin, but Harry was no knock-off. In fact, back in his day, audiences rated Harry a better singer than Dean Martin, Eddie Fisher, and many other popular crooners of the time. That he held onto this gift his entire life is a testament, we think, to his tremendous talent and energy.
Although touring took him around the world, Harry remained a Fallser at heart, with extra spunk and sass. We’ll always remember the funny stories he shared between sets — often blue, always charming — about life on the road and growing up in The Falls.
PRIME OF LIFE (originally published May 28, 2014)
Harry Prime doesn’t let anyone piss in his pockets and he doesn’t forget a friend. Both poles of his personality were on display at his dinner show at the Epicure Cafe on Saturday May 24th. And, oh yeah, he can still sing.
Some people go to Harry’s shows to hear about Grace Kelly or the picture postcard stories from the good old days. And Harry doesn’t disappoint. He can spin a clean, upbeat tale as well as anyone, evoking the old neighborhood with the same precision as he croons the rolling notes of Until (his hit with Tommy Dorsey).
But we go to his shows for his scrappier side: frank, funny, and unfiltered stories about growing up in East Falls, living on the road when he was a singer in a big band, and what life is like when you’re pushing 95.
Harry has often said that life on the road in the 40s and 50s was a series of mostly “less drunk and completely drunk” nights, but when he told the story of the gabardine jacket to the Epicure crowd, it offered a peek into the craziness of a crowded touring bus full of “vipers (pot smokers) and drinkers.”
In the late 40s, Harry had begun to earn real money working for the Ralph Flanagan Orchestra and one day rewarded himself with a new gabardine coat. “The coat was beautiful,” he said, “with epaulets on the shoulders.” He hung it at the back of the bus as the orchestra rolled on to its next destination on the tour. When they arrived, he found the coat dripping wet and smelling of urine, with one pocket still brimming.
“It’s always the sax players,” said Harry, as he explained the drunk who’d relieved himself at Harry’s expense. He settled the score shortly afterward, with only one complaint from orchestra leader Ralph Flanagan—“Couldn’t you have hit him in the gut, not the mouth?” Flanagan couldn’t afford a sax player with a banged-up mouth.
When we’d invited Felicite Moorman from Hohenadel House to join us at Harry’s show, we didn’t know her background as a dancer, singer and Big Band aficionado. We had no idea how much she would be touched by his whole performance. At the end of the evening, we overheard her saying, with tears in her eyes, that it was one of the best nights of her life.
It made us wonder what a thrill it would be to have Harry and Felicite sing a few songs in the ballroom of Hohenadel House. After all, Harry knew the house very well when Felicite mentioned it to him. What if the three of them performed at one of the most historic houses in town? As Harry might say, that would be in the pocket.
Harry is survived by his four children with his late wife Marie: Kevin Prime; Greg Prime (Romy); Ric Prime (Vince Versace); Kim Katner (Larry), and also his grandchildren Brayden, Caelan, Austin, Mackenzie, Alexis, Taylor, and Riley. Harry also had three children from a previous marriage: John, Harry, and Bethenia. Services and interment private at the request of his family. Please send condolences through Scanlin Funeral Home in Chalfont, PA.