Popular singer Bob Eberly spent much of his career with Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra. Eberly gained prominence in his early years by winning Fred Allen’s amateur hour and began his professional career singing in clubs around his hometown of Hoosick Falls, in upstate New York. His act consisted of singing while accompanying himself on the guitar. One reviewer described his style as “individual.” It was in Troy, New York, where the Dorsey Brothers discovered him, later hiring him to replace the departing Bob Crosby.
Eberly started work in the spring of 1935, three weeks before Tommy walked out on the orchestra. Having been hired by Tommy, he feared losing his job, but both brothers offered him a position. He chose Jimmy, as Tommy wouldn’t be able to pay him for several weeks until his new band was ready to perform.
Eberly stayed with Jimmy for eight years and ranked as one of the top male vocalists of his day, rivaling Bing Crosby and later Frank Sinatra for that title. He placed third in Billboard magazine’s 1940, 1941 and 1942 college polls for best male vocalist, moving up to second in 1943. At the beginning of 1939, he changed the spelling of his last name from Eberle because the announcer of the Milton Berle radio program kept mispronouncing it.
Well-liked by his peers, Eberly became best friends and eventually roommates with Jimmy Dorsey. Throughout his career, he was encouraged by many in the industry to strike out on his own, but he refused. He was perfectly happy earning a weekly salary with Dorsey’s group. Most famous are his duets with Helen O’Connell, in whom he also had romantic interest.
In December 1943, Eberly’s relationship with Dorsey ﬁnally ended when he entered the army and was stationed in the Chicago area with Wayne King’s orchestra. His two years in the service severely hurt his career. After he received his discharge, he signed with Decca and began touring as a solo act, ﬁnding though that he had been largely forgotten by the general public.
Eberly recorded for the Coral and World labels in the late 1940s before signing to Capitol in 1951, where he was reunited on duets with O’Connell. During the early 1950s, he was a regular on the television program TV’s Top Tunes, but by the middle of the decade he had faded from the public eye. He spent the rest of his career singing mostly in small clubs.
In 1980, Eberly had one lung removed but still continued to sing. Frank Sinatra paid for the operation, even though the two singers had never met. Bob Eberly died of a heart attack in 1981. His younger brother, Ray Eberle, sang with Glenn Miller and later led his own band.