He did it his way, singing lots of Si­na­tra

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Idoubt Mickey Light ever met Joseph Camp­bell, the em­i­nent scholar of myth and folk­lore, but I know of no one who bet­ter prac­ticed what Camp­bell preached: “Fol­low your bliss. If you fol­low your bliss, you put your­self on a kind of track that has been there all the while wait­ing for you ...”

When Mickey Light, the one-time steel­worker, put on his tuxedo and fe­dora and stepped into a spot­light — wher­ever his im­pres­sive im­per­son­ation of Frank Si­na­tra took him — he was the hap­pi­est man alive. He fol­lowed his bliss. It took him from a life of frus­tra­tions and jobs he hated to the ful­fill­ment of his big­gest dream and “the best thing that ever hap­pened to me.”

It took Mickey, croon­ing all the way, to res­tau­rants and road­houses, ball­rooms and bar­rooms, Amer­i­can Le­gion halls, coun­try clubs and casi­nos, nurs­ing homes and pri­vate birth­day par­ties. The fam­ily of the de­parted once hired him to sing “Sum­mer Wind” and “My Way” at a fu­neral. Mickey made a lot of peo­ple smile. He made some women swoon, and some men cry.

He was born Ge­orge Alvin Le­icht 83 years ago in East Bal­ti­more’s old 10th Ward. He was so proud of his roots he later had “10th Ward” tat­tooed on his right arm. His fam­ily lived in pub­lic hous­ing be­fore mov­ing to a row­house on the north­east side of the city. Mickey dropped out of school as a teenager, served in the Army in the 1950s, came home and bounced through var­i­ous jobs — Good Hu­mor man, Beth­le­hem Steel and Chessie Sys­tem worker, in­staller of storm win­dows, bar­tender and bell­man.

By the time I first heard his “Sounds of Si­na­tra” act, Mickey was in his mid-50s and had be­come some­thing of a Bal­ti­more sen­sa­tion. By day, he served guests at the Hy­att Re­gency Ho­tel. By night, he sang like Si­na­tra at Gio­vanni’s in Edge­wood, Joey’s in Es­sex and Min­nick’s restau­rant in Dun­dalk. For ac­com­pa­ni­ment, he used record­ings of Nel­son Rid­dle and Count Basie ar­range­ments, a mix­ing board, a disc player and two Peavey speak­ers.

One night in the early 1990s, when karaoke was still new around here, Mickey came on my ra­dio show on WBAL. After he started singing “The Lady Is A Tramp,” my pro­duc­ers and I looked at each other with the kind of shock we saw, years later, when Su­san Boyle sang “I Dreamed A Dream” on “Bri­tain’s Got Tal­ent.” It was pretty much that crazy. Mickey had lis­tened to so many record­ings of Si­na­tra over the pre­vi­ous 40 years that, when he tapped into his nat­u­ral vo­cal gifts, Ol’ Blue Eyes came out. I think his next song that night was “Fly Me To The Moon,” and the im­per­son­ation left all of us shak­ing our heads.

His ado­ra­tion of Si­na­tra went back to his rough-and-tum­ble teen years, and Mickey’s bud­dies from the 10th Ward. “All of us loved Si­na­tra,” he told Kevin Cowherd, fel­low Sun colum­nist, in 2002. “We liked him cuz he was a tough guy, and we were tough guys, too. We liked how he dressed, his singing, his women, his at­ti­tude, the way he didn't take no bull from any­one."

Mickey was good at Si­na­tra and, at mid-life with a second wife, his con­fi­dence build­ing with ev­ery gig, he seemed to have the world on a string — a charm­ing and funny man, per­form­ing as Frank but never tak­ing the schtick so se­ri­ously that you thought he was weird. “It’s a real kick,” he said of his show-biz ca­reer. “That hour you’re on stage all your trou­bles go away.”

For a few years, Mickey called me just about ev­ery month to tell about where the “Sounds of Si­na­tra” had taken him — to the Po­conos to per­form at a re­sort, to Ari­zona to per­form for a con­fer­ence of car deal­ers (and for­mer Ford and Chrysler ex­ec­u­tive Lee Ia­cocca), to an oc­ca­sional “job in Jersey,” a lunch hour gig in a court­house cafe­te­ria, and a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion at Caves Val­ley Coun­try Club. (“It's a party for Bolton Banks,” Mickey said. “That's ei­ther a com­pany or a guy, I dunno.”)

When Frank Si­na­tra died in 1998, peo­ple sent Mickey flow­ers. “So many flow­ers, you wouldn’t be­lieve it,” he said.

Word of Mickey Light’s death, from com­pli­ca­tions of de­men­tia, came last week from one of his sons, Brian Le­icht, in the Chicago area, where Mickey had moved a few years ago. As the end ap­proached, Brian kept Si­na­tra record­ings com­ing from a disc player in his father’s hospice room. The last song was “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morn­ing,” and that’s when Mickey died, a lit­tle after 2 a.m. on Tuesday, fol­low­ing his bliss to the very end.

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