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Costa began as a guitarist with theatre orchestras in Boston. He moved to New York and worked as a studio musician (he and Bucky Pizzarelli played the dual guitars behind Vaughn Monroe on his biggest hit, "Ghost Riders in the Sky") while trying to get established as an arranger. His big break came when Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence asked him to provide some arrangers for their early records on Coral. Soon, the Costa-Gorme-Lawrence team moved to ABC-Paramount, and Costa took over as ABC's lead A&R man and house arranger. While at ABC, Costa launched the career of a teenager from Canada named Paul Anka.
In 1959, Costa moved with Lawrence and Gorme to the new United Artists label, and Costa released a number of albums under his own name. His cover of "Never On Sunday" sold over a million copies and was the most successful recording of the song. He liked very dense arrangements--Billy Byers called him "the Puccini of pop," saying that his arrangements were "seething with melody." On "Echoing Voices and Trombones," Costa's use of the chorus sounds like Ray Conniff on speed.
In the early 1960s, Costa formed his own production company (Don Costa Productions) and began developing a number of acts, including Trini Lopez and Little Anthony and the Imperials. Frank Sinatra hired him away from Lawrence and Gorme as his main arranger and conductor, and later, producer. Costa brought Sinatra some of his worst material ("Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown"), and it's been said that he was incapable of writing a swinging chart. Costa did, however, know what worked commercially, and that apparently was what Sinatra was looking for in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Costa continued to work for Sinatra as his touring conductor until Costa was stricken with heart disease in the early 1980s.
Costa also scored several films, including "Rough Night in Jerico" and "Madigan." In the year before his death, he released a single with his 10-year-old daughter, Nikka, singing lead. "Out Here on My Own" sold over 3 million copies, and Costa was working on a follow-up when he died.
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