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Chicago arts fund-raiser, opera singer Evelyn ‘Evie’ Glieberman dead at 88

When Evie Glieberman became president of a North Side group of Lyric Opera supporters, it had 40 members.

Two years later, the Near North Chapter numbered 300 — up 750 percent.

The surge, friends say, was inspired by her charm and energy. Mrs. Glieberman, who also raised money for the Grant Park Orchestra, the Service Club of Chicago and the Chicago Academy for the Arts, died March 16 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. She was 88.

A trained opera singer and pianist who could still hit a high “C” in her ninth decade, she was a dark-eyed beauty who stood about 4 feet 10. Yet she was a force.

“She got up at 5 o’clock in the morning, starting her work, trying to make her calls to raise money for all her causes,” said her daughter, Gale Thornton.

Mrs. Glieberman helped organize a 1993 toast to Jule Styne, the composer of “Gypsy,” “Funny Girl” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” that benefited the Chicago Academy for the Arts, 1010 W. Chicago Ave.

After singing at a party in Palm Springs, California, Mrs. Glieberman met soprano Lily Pons, who starred in the 1930s film “I Dream Too Much,” alongside Henry Fonda and a young Lucille Ball. (Critics famously joked that the ill-served Pons’ Hollywood debut should have been called “I Scream Too Much.”)

Mrs. Glieberman helped Pons organize opera events in Palm Springs, where she and her husband, divorce lawyer Herb Glieberman, had a vacation home. There she booked singers Beverly Sills and Renata Scotto, according to a Lyric Opera biography that saluted her patronage.

Evelyn "Evie" Glieberman and her husband, Herb. | Provided photo

Evelyn “Evie” Glieberman and her husband, Herb. | Provided photo

Onstage, she was unshakeable. In 1960, she was singing “La Strada Nel Bosco” — The Path in the Woods — at Eddy’s in Kansas City, Missouri, when a gunman tried to rob the supper club.

“It looked as if something was wrong, but I kept singing,” she told the Kansas City Times.

“Then, I heard the gun just as I finished the last notes of my first song.” A club owner fatally shot the holdup man. Her knees went wobbly, she said, but she regained her composure and resumed singing as police streamed in.

Thanks in part to her cool, the 125 patrons didn’t panic. They thought it was part of an act.

She grew up Evelyn Eraci in Bridgeport, the daughter of opera-loving parents. Her father, Joseph, was from near Messina, Sicily. Her American-born mother, Rose, was of Calabrian descent.

Her uncle appeared on Chicago radio as “Phil Ray, the Singing Milkman,” according to Lyric Opera records. At 4, she made her singing debut on his show.

“She would sing everything — Broadway show tunes, opera,” said her brother, Dr. Joseph Eraci.

She attended Ward grade school and Englewood High School. Her music teacher arranged a four-year scholarship to Chicago’s Sherwood Conservatory of Music, where she studied with famed opera singer Rosa Raisa, who performed with the conductor Arturo Toscanini.

Young Evie was as adept at standards as opera. During Chicago’s nightclub heyday, she entertained at venues including the Café Bonaparte at the old Sheraton-Blackstone Hotel, the Chicago Theatre, the Embers on Dearborn and the Edgewater Beach Hotel. A gig at Caruso’s on Rush Street led to her dueting with crooner Eddie Fisher, famed former spouse of Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor.

She also sang with WGN’s Chicago Theater of the Air. Broadway composer Richard Rodgers selected her to perform his songs with the St. Louis Symphony, said her son, Joel.

In 1956, she was singing at a Chicago club when Herb Glieberman spotted her.

“I noticed this gorgeous girl,” he said in a 2002 Chicago Sun-Times interview about their romance.

Though she was about to tour the country in the Aqua Follies of 1956, he wangled the schedule and began courting her long-distance with phone calls and extravagant deliveries of red roses.

Within a few months, he flew to Seattle to present her with a diamond ring. She accepted, and they broke her contract with MCA Records. “I told them I was giving her a lifetime contract,” her husband said.

“I had to give up my dream of being a world-famous opera singer because I realized I couldn’t do that and be married and have a family,” she said. “So I decided to focus on singing in Chicago.”

The marriage was happy. “He writes lovely little love notes,” she said in the 2002 interview, “and I still get flowers. Or he’ll come home and say, ‘I saw a dress . . .’ He buys wonderful gifts.”

“I’ve never been a drinker, but hearing her voice is like a glass of wine,” her husband said. “Talking to her takes the place of the corner bar for me.”

They married in a ceremony with a Roman Catholic priest and a rabbi, and raised their family in Lincolnwood. Later, they moved to the condominiums at Water Tower Place.

They celebrated Christian and Jewish holidays. Mrs. Glieberman played the piano and sang at Christmas, and she performed at relatives’ weddings.

She worked with Essee Kupcinet, wife of Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet, to help establish the Chicago Academy for the Arts.

“While she certainly played an important role in the school’s fundraising for many years, my most poignant memories are of how seriously she took her mentorship of students,” principal Jason Patera said in an email. “She was fabulous as Berthe in the Academy’s production of ‘Pippin’ in 2003. She attended every last rehearsal — whether she was called or not — and became an incredible example of work ethic and professionalism.”

In her mid-70s, Mrs. Glieberman sang the national anthem at a White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field.

She counted among her friends Frank Sinatra, who also had a home in Palm Springs. Often, she visited his home to work with his wife, Barbara, on fundraising committees. Her houseguests included Jehan Sadat, wife of assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. The Gliebermans met her in Washington, D.C., where they had an apartment at the Watergate complex.

In addition to her husband and two children, she is survived by three grandchildren. A son, Ronald, died before her. Services have been held.