Ginny Mancini dies; big band singer, LA philanthropist and widow of composer Henry Mancini

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Ginny Mancini, a jazz singer in the heyday of the big band era who became a generous benefactor of LA concert halls as well as the city’s small, often struggling children’s music academies, has died at her home in Malibu.

One of Hollywood’s leading philanthropists, Mancini passed away on October 25. She was 97 years old.

In the post-war era, she joined bandleader Mel Torme upon graduating from Los Angeles City College, then joined the Tex Beneke Orchestra as a member of the Mello-Larks. Beneke had recently taken over the Glenn Miller Orchestra and was looking for new talent. He found it in the young jazz singer, as well as a gifted pianist and arranger named Henry Mancini.

The two married in 1947. Henry Mancini’s career would soon skyrocket, making him one of the most popular and well-known film and television composers of the 20th century, with 72 Grammy nominations and 18 Oscar nominations.

While Henry Mancini wrote sheet music for films such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, “The Pink Panther” and the television series “Peter Gunn”, Ginny Mancini got involved in causes. She founded a group that raised millions to help support singers who had gone through difficult times, served as president of an Los Angeles music academy that encouraged young musicians, and was honorary director of the LA Philharmonic.

Late in her life, Ginny Mancini received a letter from a Boyle Heights nonprofit that caught her attention. She had never heard of it, but the image of the converted chalet was striking. It was the kind of place, she later told Times columnist Steve Lopez, that she wished she could have escaped as a child. The young students, she imagined, looked a lot like what she had been: struggling but talented.

She wrote the first of several checks to Neighborhood Music School. When she visited the tidy academy, with her student body largely Latino, she was struck by its warmth.

“I was able to make the connection with my childhood and how much I would have appreciated this school,” she said. “It really resonated with me.”

Ginny Mancini at her home in Holmby Hills. She was one of Hollywood’s leading philanthropists.

(Los Angeles Times)

She was born Virginia O’Connor in Los Angeles on July 25, 1924, and her childhood was marked by upheaval. Her father was Irish and her mother Mexican, and the two had met while picking cherries in the San Fernando Valley. The marriage fell apart, and a young Ginny was raised speaking Spanish, nurtured by a loving grandmother and great-grandmother from what she called “a long line of strong Mexican women.”

The family moved frequently, and Ginny helped them wherever they landed – an ice cream cone factory in Boyle Heights, a dry cleaner in Hollywood, a sheet metal factory in San Pedro.

As a child, she learned to play the piano and sang at El Monte High School and LA City College before joining Torme and, later, Beneke. In the 1950s, she sang in movie studio choirs and on television variety shows such as the “Red Skelton Show” and the “Judy Garland Show”.

She then founded the Society of Singers, a nonprofit organization for struggling musicians, and served as president of the Henry Mancini Institute, an academy in LA that encouraged young musicians. She was also Honorary Life Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Mancini is survived by two daughters, Monica and Felice; one son, Chris; two grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. Henry Mancini died of cancer in 1994. His three children are involved in music.

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