Mel Sherr, the 82-year-old strolling violinist who played "Sunrise, Sunset" to decades of guests at Baltimore wedding receptions and bar mitzvahs, died Dec. 25 of a heart ailment at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Mr. Sherr, a decorated World War II veteran who landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, also put in 49 years with the medical corps of the Maryland National Guard.
"He was the pre-eminent practitioner of his art. He knew an infinite variety of show tunes, the Porter, Berlin and Gershwin music that people request," said Jack Hook, a local official of the American Federation of Musicians.
Mr. Sherr was a fixture at local social gatherings that called for unamplified music. Dressed in his tuxedo, he always worked the aisles and tables in a courtly and refined manner. His aim was to involve his audience in the music. Years of experience in the business taught him that men rarely request a tune.
"He would usually approach the ladies at a table first," said Ray Dombrowski, a fellow violin player. "Then he would ask, 'Hello, may I play your favorite song?' "
That favorite song was often a Broadway show tune, a Viennese waltz or light classic.
"He had a way of fitting the right song with the right person. If he came upon a mother with an infant, he played a lullaby. If he saw children, he played something from the latest Disney film. He kept current with music," Mr. Dombrowski said.
Born Melvin Sherr, he was the son of Lithuanian immigrants who owned a South Fulton Avenue grocery store. His father, the late Louis Sherr, who played the trumpet and performed with the city's Park Band, made sure his sons took music lessons.
Until he was 62, Mr. Sherr also designed and sold kitchen cabinets for Shields Kitchens and worked his music dates in the evenings and weekends.
Last month, for the first time in many years, he missed a standing engagement, the annual Maryland Club members' Christmas party where he serenaded tables with "Maryland, My Maryland" and the "Washington and Lee Swing."
"He said he didn't feel well and was going to have a checkup," Mr. Dombrowski said.
In 1942 he married Lola Lawrence, whom he met at a restaurant while he was performing.
His military career began in 1929, when at age 16 and a City College student, he enlisted in the Maryland National Guard. He was called into federal service in 1941 with the rank of sergeant-major in the 104th Medical Battalion of the 29th Division.
"The 29th was one of the five assault divisions Eisenhower picked to go in on D-Day," said Donald McKee, a past commander of the 29th Division Association who lives in Silver Spring.
His division suffered heavy casualties between the time it landed in Normandy and May 1945. "He was in charge of 600 men. He had plenty to do," Mr. McKee said.
Mr. Sherr returned to Normandy three times to visit the battle sites and graves. He was one of the organizers of the 29th's 50th anniversary trip there in June 1994.
"We were honored at dinners and he had medals pinned on him by French mayors," said his daughter, Frances Sherr Davino, who lives in Mansfield, Mass. "But what he really wanted to do was visit the graves and say goodbye to his buddies."
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include two other daughters, Brenda Morgan of Leominster, Mass. and Jody Sherr Dulude of Burlington, Vt.; two sons, Howard Sherr of Erie, Pa., and Roger Sherr of Severna Park; a brother, Sidney Sherr of Sykesville; two sisters, Zelda Miller of Silver Spring and Joanne Steinmetz of Pikesville; and 10 grandchildren.
Pub Date: 01/03/97