Singer Skip Nelson had the world handed to him on a silver platter several times during the 1940s, though he never had the luck to hold onto it. Born Scipione Mirabella in Italy, Nelson grew up in Brooklyn and ended up in Pittsburgh in 1940 or 1941, broke and looking for band work. A skilled pianist as well as a vocalist, he landed a job with local orchestra leader Benny Burton, who also staked him a hotel room. He left Burton for another Pittsburgh band led by Joey Sims in December 1941 and was singing with Piccolo Pete at Pittsburgh’s Ritz Hotel in April 1942 when Chico Marx tapped him as vocalist to replace the departing Ziggy Lane.
Back in New York once again, Nelson sang and recorded with Marx for the next two months, attracting the attention of Glenn Miller, who hired him away in June 1942 to take over for the recently-fired Ray Eberle. Nelson’s prospects looked bright, but his time with Miller proved short when the famous bandleader enlisted in the Army Air Force that September. When Miller disbanded a few days later, Nelson returned to Marx, where he joined a young Mel Torme as vocalist.
Despite spending only four months with Miller, Nelson’s voice graced several of the band’s last recordings, made in July as a last effort to beat the American Federation of Musician’s recording ban which started at the end of the month. RCA Victor slowly released the material over a period of more than a year, allowing the public to keep buying new Miller records long after the leader had hung up his baton. It also kept Nelson’s name in the spotlight, and he earned eighth place in Billboard magazine’s 1943 college poll for best male band vocalist.
Remaining with Marx for the next six months, Nelson left in May 1943 for Tommy Dorsey’s band, where he replaced Dick Haymes, the second time in his short career that he’d been hired to take over for a top star in a top orchestra. While with Dorsey, Nelson made his only film appearance in MGM’s Broadway Rhythm. Dorsey liked the singer enough that he survived the bandleader’s infamous purge of August 1943, in which Dorsey fired his whole orchestra. Nelson stayed with him until October, when he struck out on a solo career, represented by former bandleader Ben Pollack, who also handled Marx.
Nelson had little success as a solo artist. With no recording contract or radio show, he struggled, finally ending up with Guy Lombardo. As vocalist on the band’s 1944 top ten hit “It’s Love Love Love,” he once again found himself on the charts but unable to capitalize on it, as Lombardo felt that he overpowered the band and didn’t keep him on. Nelson then found a home with Teddy Powell’s orchestra, a job that ended only a few short weeks later when Powell was arrested on draft evasion charges in mid-July 1944.
Nelson joined Glen Gray’s orchestra in early 1945, making a soundie with the band, “A Friend of Yours,” on Filmcraft later that year. Gray’s famous Casa Loma Orchestra was only a shell of what it once had been, though, and the position did little to further Nelson’s career. He left Gray in January 1946 to go solo again, singing at Hollywood’s Trocadero that summer and recording with Hal Brooks’ band. He finally gave up, though, and returned to Pittsburgh, where early 1947 found him as part of the house act at the Mercur Music Bar, singing for pianist Errol Garner.
Settling down in Pittsburgh with his family, Nelson remained a popular local singer over the next few years, earning his own afternoon television program on WDTV in 1951. In the 1960s, he moved to Florida, where he continued to sing as well as sell used cars. Skip Nelson passed away in 1974, age 58.