Born Dominick P. Costa, 10 June 1925, Boston, Massachusetts
Primarily known as an arranger, orchestrator and conductor, the late Don Costa was known as one of the premier arrangers of the pop era, alongside Billy May, Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones, Stan Applebaum and Jimmie Haskell. As a producer, he was responsible for four # 1 hits : "Diana" (1957) and "Lonely Boy" (1959), both by Paul Anka, and "Stagger Lee" (1958) by Lloyd Price, all on ABC-Paramount, and as co-producer, "Candy Man" by Sammy Davis, Jr. (1972). Costa also produced one of Frank Sinatra's best known hits, "My Way" (1969).
As a child, Costa took a keen interest in learning the guitar and became a member of the CBS Radio Orchestra by the time he was in his teens. In the late 1940s he moved to New York City and worked as a studio musician (he and Bucky Pizzarelli played the dual guitars behind Vaughn Monroe on "Ghost Riders In the Sky"), while trying to get established as an arranger. His big break came when Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence asked him to provide some arrangements for their early records on Coral. Soon, the Costa-Gorme-Lawrence team moved to ABC-Paramount, where Costa took over as the label's lead A&R man and house arranger. He proved surprisingly adept at producing rock 'n' roll sessions, considering that his heart lay elsewhere. Apart from the hits by Paul Anka and Lloyd Price, Costa also supervised sessions by George Hamilton IV, Clint Miller ("Bertha Lou"), Jay B. Lloyd, Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones, Johnny Janis, Bill Hayes, the Poni-Tails, Micki Marlo and many others. As a guitarist, Costa recorded several instrumentals for ABC under the name of Muvva "Guitar" Hubbard, including a good version of "Raunchy" (the flip of which was called "The Other Side"!).
In 1959, Costa moved with Lawrence and Gorme to the United Artists label, where he released a number of albums under his own name. Three of his UA singles made the Billboard charts: "I'll Walk the Line" (# 59, 1959), "Theme From The Unforgiven" (# 27, 1960) and "Never on Sunday" (# 19, 1960, the most successful recording of this movie theme). Don Costa was voted number one in Cash Box as the most popular arranger and conductor.
In the early 1960s, Costa moved to Hollywood and formed his own production company (Don Costa Productions) and began developing a number of acts, including Trini Lopez (whose biggest hit, "If I Had A Hammer" was produced by Costa) and Little Anthony and the Imperials. Frank Sinatra hired him away from Lawrence and Gorme as his main arranger and conductor, and later, producer.
Towards the end of the 1960s Costa started working with MGM Records and Mike Curb, producing and arranging the Osmond Brothers (and later the solo recordings of Donny Osmond), as well as having a hand in Sammy Davis's "The Candy Man" and Petula Clark's "My Guy". Costa also scored several films, including "Rough Night In Jericho" and "Madigan". In the early 1980s, Costa scored again with a hit with his 10-year old daughter Nikka, entitled "Out Here On My Own". The two were planning a follow-up when Costa suddenly died of a heart attack in New York City, at the age of 57.
Other names that Costa has worked with include The Ames Brothers, Vic Damone, Marv Johnson, Eddy Arnold, Perry Como, James Darren, Kenny Rankin, Bobby Sherman and Robert Goulet. Costa was a workaholic who was generally admired by his colleagues for his craftmanship. Producer Denny Diante has called him a genius and Billy Byers called him "the Puccini of Pop", saying that his arrangements were "seething with melody".
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