April Stevens Dies at 93; Her ‘Deep Purple’ Became a Surprise Hit
April Stevens, whose rushed recording of “Deep Purple” with her brother, Nino Tempo, became a chart-topping single in 1963 and won a Grammy Award, died on April 17 at her home in Scottsdale, Ariz. She was 93.
The death was confirmed by her stepson Gary Perman.
The Stevens-Tempo version of “Deep Purple” — a jazz standard that had been a hit for Bing Crosby — featured the siblings harmonizing over a mellow arrangement accented with a harmonica. Ms. Stevens had the idea to record the song, originally written for piano by Peter DeRose, with lyrics added by Mitchell Parish; Mr. Tempo came up with the arrangement; and Glen Campbell played on the record as a session musician.
In one section, Ms. Stevens recited the lyrics and Mr. Tempo sang them back in falsetto. They went, in part:
“When a deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls/ and the stars begin to twinkle in the night/ In the mist of a memory you wander back to me/ breathing my name with a sigh.”
The siblings had stumbled on the spoken-word idea after Mr. Tempo had failed to memorize the lyrics in time for a rehearsal, so Ms. Stevens fed them to him during that session. A friend loved the effect, Mr. Tempo said in a phone interview, and “we knew we had backed into something magical.”
They recorded “Deep Purple” in just 14 minutes, at the tail end of a session with Ahmet Ertegun, the Atlantic Records co-founder who had signed them to his Atco Records imprint. Mr. Tempo, who was not a harmonica player, picked up the instrument and tried a few licks.
But the final result felt sloppy, Mr. Tempo said, and after executives at the label listened to the song, Mr. Ertegun told him that his partners “think it’s the worst record you’ve ever made.”
In response, the siblings said that if Mr. Ertegun did not release “Deep Purple,” they would want to be released from their contract — they hoped to sign with the music producer Phil Spector. Mr. Ertegun relented. The song came out in September 1963 and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart the week of Nov. 16.
The song did not stay on top for long: About a week later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and most of the country’s attention was drawn far from the Top 40.
But “Deep Purple” went on to sell more than a million copies, and the siblings won a Grammy for best rock ’n’ roll recording of the year.
The duo of April Stevens and Nino Tempo released several more records that made the charts, but they never again reached No. 1; their brand of jazz-inflected pop music soon gave way to the rock ’n’ roll of the British invasion, with the Beatles first topping the Billboard charts in 1964.
Carol Vincenette LoTempio was born in Niagara Falls, N.Y., on April 29, 1929, to Samuel and Anna (Donia) LoTempio, both descended from Italian immigrants from Sicily. Her mother was a homemaker, her father a grocer.
Her brother, born Anthony Bart LoTempio, was musically gifted and sang onstage with Benny Goodman before he was 10 years old. The family moved to Los Angeles to develop his music career, where Carol attended Belmont High School.
Before they became a brother-and-sister act, the siblings each established solo musical careers — he as a jazz saxophonist who played with artists like Bobby Darin, and she as a singer who recorded popular versions of songs like Cole Porter’s “I’m in Love Again.”
Ms. LoTempio took the name April Stevens before releasing several records during the 1950s, including “Teach Me Tiger,” a sultry number with lyrics like “Take my lips, they belong to you.” Though some listeners found the song offensive, it reached a modest No. 86 on the Billboard chart in 1959. (In 1983, NASA used the song to awaken astronauts on a shuttle mission and invited Ms. Stevens to watch the landing.)
The siblings appeared on “American Bandstand” and shared a stage with the Righteous Brothers and the Beach Boys among other gigs in the United States, Europe and Australia.
Their other charting singles included versions of the standards “Whispering” (No. 11) and “Stardust” (No. 32), both in 1964. Both made use of their spoken-and-sung lyrics device.
In 1985, Ms. Stevens married William Perman; he survives her. In addition to her brother and stepson Gary, she is survived by another stepson, Robert Perman; two stepdaughters, Laura LeMoine and Lisa Price; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
With bookings drying up, the siblings stopped performing together as the 1970s gave way to the ’80s. Mr. Tempo later recorded and performed as a jazz saxophonist, but Ms. Stevens never returned to singing.
But not long before the Stevens-Tempo act dissolved, another brother and sister duo, Donny and Marie Osmond, recorded their own duet of “Deep Purple.” Complete with harmonica riffs and the same spoken and sung lyrics, it reached No. 14 on the Billboard chart in 1976.