Joe Ames, of Ames Brothers, dies at 86


Joe Ames, the deep-voiced anchor and eldest member of the 1950s hit singing group the Ames Brothers, has died. He was 86.

Ames, who lived in Eltville-am-Rhein, a town near Mainz in Germany, died on Dec. 22 at a hospital several days after suffering a heart attack, his daughter, Jo-Ellen Ames of Melbourne, Fla., said Tuesday.

Ames and brothers Ed, Gene and Vic were one of the most popular quartets in the decades before the advent of rock 'n' roll.

For nearly three decades, the Ames brothers built a career that included eight gold records and regular appearances on TV, in fancy nightclubs and Las Vegas. They had million-selling international hits such as "The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane" but sang a variety of styles, from folk songs to rhythm and blues.

At their peak, the brothers could command a then-stellar $20,000 a week on tour. They were named Billboard magazine's best vocal group of the year in 1958.

But Ames had humble beginnings.

Born Joseph Urick on May 3, 1921, in Malden, Mass., he was one of nine surviving children of impoverished Jewish Ukrainian immigrants.

Their mother taught the children to appreciate music they heard on Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts.

The four boys began singing at local events as the Urick Brothers, won several Boston-area amateur contests and while still in their 20s went on to professional gigs and recording contracts.

Along the way, they changed their name to the Ames Brothers.

Pop music wasn't Joe Ames' first choice, though. A singer with more than a three-octave range, he loved opera and at one point was offered a spot with the Metropolitan Opera's touring company.

"He had an incredible range and it was crystal," his daughter said.

However, Ames' mother wanted him to sing with his siblings.

"Coming from a large family of no real means, his mom thought, 'please stay with your brothers,"' Ames' daughter said. "Because if they made it, that was four kids out of the ghetto."

"He made a very difficult decision. Opera was his true love."

The group disbanded in the early 1960s. Ed Ames had a solo career and later went into acting.

Joe and the others recorded some albums as a group and had a television show in Houston in the early 1960s.

In 1965, Ames moved to Germany, where he had intended to try an operatic career but instead became involved in producing and managing other talents, his daughter said.

As a consultant, he conceived and developed musical programs for German public television channel ZDF. He continued consulting for the channel until retiring about 15 years ago, his daughter said.

In addition to his daughter, Ames is survived by his brother, Ed, of Los Angeles; his wife, Ingeborg Heittman-Ames of Germany and a grandson, Jordan Shein.