“Natalie Cole is one of my specialities. “The Very Thought of You” is a show stopper! Sometimes I’ll do a ‘duet’ of Unforgettable,” he says. “It’s fun to watch people’s faces as I sing like both Nat King Cole and his daughter Natalie, on the duet! Hilarious!”
Lush…resonant…romantic. The words apply not only to the lyrics of the songs he sings, but also to the qualities of Steven Palumbo’s elegant voice. The sheer love of music and performing comes through in every note he sings.
Currently best known for his portrayal of Dean Martin in a ‘Rat Pack’ tribute, Palumbo’s powerful voice and personal charm play well to fans throughout New England and indeed all along the East Coast.
A natural entertainer, Palumbo began singing during his childhood in Providence, Rhode Island. He took voice lessons and grew up loving all kinds of music. In fact, he was spotlighted early on when selected for the prestigious Barrington Boys Choir (an American version of the one in Vienna). Through that opportunity, he appeared in the operas Carmen and Tosca at the Providence Performing Arts Center, formerly The Ocean State Theater. Roles in musical theatre followed. Though he later graduated from Ithaca College in New York with a degree in education, Palumbo never lost his ease onstage. A teacher by day, professional singer by night, and audiences applaud this doubly-talented individual.
“During my twenties, I had a great experience mastering the Motown sound and songbook,” he says, referring to his seven-year stint as a lead vocalist with TWYCE, the high-profile Motown tribute band from RI. “We did all the classic hits, providing a high-energy opening act for Tavares, the Temptations, Jeffrey Osborne and other greats,” he recalls. The gig taught him a lot about showmanship and stage presence as TWYCE performed in venues large and small, even headlining the big rooms at the Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut.
But Palumbo’s range was greater than Motown. He wanted to embrace swing classics, the great romantic American balladeers, so he accepted solo bookings to perform the music of Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin and Mel Torme, among others. He also includes standards from such ‘new classics’ as Harry Connick, Jr. and Andrea Bocelli. Often teaming with pianist Al Sims, the classy combo can fill a room with aching melodies and upbeat jazz standards.
Adding to Palumbo’s intrigue is his “semi-fluency” in Italian. “When I was in college, I was in an Italian honor society,” he said, “and my Italian heritage gives me a good ear for the language.” Indeed, his voice seems particularly passionate and rich when singing the romantic lyrics of Con te Partirò (popularized as Time to Say Goodbye) and Ritorna Me. They are favorites with his audiences and much requested during live shows.
Palumbo gets the greatest thrill from delivering his Dean Martin illusion. “I try to set the mood by holding a cocktail and sporting a tuxedo,” he explains, adding visual texture to the convincing power of his own voice. “I study hours of television videos of Dean Martin’s variety show performances and his speaking manner during concerts and comedy roasts.” Absorbing the nuances of Martin’s cool, breezy style, Palumbo sings medleys of Martin hits and makes them his own with signature details. A true student of Deano, Palumbo constantly adds to his knowledge of the show business legend. “I recently read the book, written by his daughter Deana, that reveals a lot about Martin’s tumultuous family life,” Palumbo comments. “The more I know about the man, greater insight I have into the way he performed, touched certain notes and phrased certain lines.”
Palumbo’s mastery of mimicry even crosses gender lines. “Natalie Cole is one of my specialities. “The Very Thought of You” is a show stopper! Sometimes I’ll do a ‘duet’ of Unforgettable,” he says. “It’s fun to watch people’s faces as I sing like both Nat King Cole and his daughter Natalie, on the duet! Hilarious!”
His show is well-suited to small restaurants and lounges where audiences can get close and really succumb to the time-warp spell. “I love singing to regular followers who know me and my music,” he says, citing the coziness of Thursday night shows at Via Roma on Providence’s famed Federal Hill, or the jazzy stints at sizzling Red Sky across from Boston’s Faneuil Hall. “The familiarity between me and the audience just works its own magic.”
While he’s most at home with the supper club set, Palumbo brings stylish, customized entertainment to a wide range of private performances, from weddings to birthday parties to corporate events. He recently sang at a 50th anniversary bash for executives of Warner Brothers Pictures in Portland, Maine. “At big shows, I give them a big show,” he emphasizes, “while private venues allow me the flexibility to perform specific song requests and more obscure titles. Either way, it’s all about being true to the music, to the intent of the song and to reaching the hearts of audience members.”
The 42-year-old Palumbo is married and lives in North Providence, RI with his two cockapoo puppies, Deano and Bennett.