Obituary of Ralph Santo Grasso
A Renaissance man with a deep love of music, flying, teaching, his rose garden, Cadillacs and especially Leah, his wife of 38 years. Born March 5, 1934 in Newark, NJ; he left us on September 14, 2021 following heart surgery.
Ralph was best known as a Hollywood studio musician and as an accompanist for headliners such as Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Herb Alpert, Tony Bennett, Jimmie Rodgers, George Shearing and even Elvis. His professional career had begun with his first paying job in junior high, followed by an ever-increasing series of gigs including his first TV appearance at age 17. After high school he entered the US Navy and wangled an assignment to the Navy band, where he won the US Navy World Talent Contest while still in his teens. That win led to his performing for presidents and Queen Elizabeth, and to friendships and professional contacts that lasted a lifetime.
After discharge from the Navy, he held a variety of day jobs while continuing to develop his musical career, including one engineering job where he was responsible for building and testing a key module for the X-15 instrument panel. Meanwhile he sought out and became a close friend with Les Paul, who showed him a prototype of his invention, the multi-track tape recorder. Drawing on his technical abilities, Ralph proceeded to use two single track recorders with multiple redubbing to achieve a similar effect in his own studio, much to the amazement of other professional musicians.
Ralph’s second love was flying. He and Leah owned a single engine Navion aircraft that they used for fun trips and for search-and-rescue missions with the California Civil Air Patrol. Helped by Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, he was a founding member of the Southern California squadron of the Confederate Air Force (since renamed “Commemorative), an organization dedicated to preservation and demonstration of historical aircraft.
Along with Herb Alpert, Clint Eastwood and others, Ralph was a founding member of the “Hollywood Hackers” who raised money for charitable organizations through celebrity golf tournaments throughout the US.
Ralph’s music took him on seven trips around the world. He was a great raconteur who could talk your ear off with stories of his many experiences and the people he had known. These are chronicled in his 200-plus page autobiography “All the Way to the Top.”
On the wall of Ralph’s studio in Green Valley, AZ is a framed copy of the poem “High Flight,” which begins “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth.” He is greatly missed by his many students, friends and admirers. No memorial service has yet been scheduled; in lieu of flowers Leah has suggested donations to MusiciansFoundation.org, who provide support to retired studio musicians, or to TucsonJazzInstitute.com, widely considered the country’s best school for young jazz musicians.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Ralph Grasso, please visit Tribute Store