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Dan Rodricks Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

Mickey Light followed his bliss and sang like Sinatra

I doubt 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 road houses, 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.

drodricks@baltsun.com

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