b. 5 May 1922, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Lewis was born into a musical family, a career in showbusiness was virtually inevitable. Her father, Leon Lewis, was a symphonic composer and pianist, her mother, Jessica, sang with the Chicago Opera Company and became one of the country’s leading vocal coaches. Her sister, Barbara Lewis Golub, became an accomplished concert pianist; while her brother, Marlo Lewis, was the producer of the original Ed Sullivan television show, The Toast Of The Town. Lewis first studied voice with her mother and left college at 17 to begin a career as a vocalist on radio. While still in her teens, she had her own programme, Monica Makes Music, on WMCA in New York. This early radio success led to a prestigious engagement at the Stork Club, and appearances with Benny Goodman’s orchestra. After appearing on radio with Frank Sinatra, Dick Powell, and Morton Gould, Lewis had recording sessions with Signature Records and Decca Records. She had a number of successes, including ‘A Tree In A Meadow’ and ‘Autumn Leaves’.
Alongside her appearances on radio and records, for more than a decade, Lewis provided the voice for the ‘Chiquita Banana’ character in cartoons and commercials. She had appeared on the first of Sullivan’s television shows, in 1948, and then came to the attention of Hollywood. She was signed by MGM where she was groomed as a dramatic actress and the studio’s answer to popular star Lana Turner. Among the movies Lewis made was The Strip (1951), which starred Mickey Rooney as a jazz drummer with the featured band of Louis Armstrong. She continued to play roles in films, and also provided an on and off screen singing voice, including Everything I Have Is Yours (1952), in which she sang the title song and danced with star Gower Champion. She also appeared frequently on television, working with Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, sharing top-billing with the latter pair for a New York club engagement. She also toured with USO shows, appearing in Korea with Danny Kaye.
Although at the height of her popularity, and headlining at leading hotels and clubs in Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco and elsewhere, Lewis, now married to movie executive Jennings Lang, retired. However, the call was too strong for a permanent absence and in the 60s, 70s and 80s she appeared in numerous television shows, including Wagon Train, Peter Gunn, Ironside, Quincy, Falcon Crest and Remington Steele. She also made occasional movie appearances, including Charley Varrick (1973), Airport ’77 (1977) and The Sting II (1983). In the mid- and late 80s, Lewis returned to the recording studio, releasing the highly praised Never Let Me Go. The success of this album resulted in the re-release of her 50s recordings.
A fluent interpreter of standards and the great show tunes, Lewis’ singing voice is clear and true. Her warm sound, allied as it is to a subtle vibrato and underlying power, allows her to bring a distinctive touch to a wide range of material. Her son Mike Lang is a noted studio musician and composer who has played piano with several leading jazz artists. He accompanied Lewis on some of her later recordings, which he also produced.