Henry Michael Cedrone, a retired machinist and musician who had an "uncanny ability" to keep people on the dance floor, died of respiratory failure Sept. 18 at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 89 and lived in Lutherville.
Born in Baltimore, he was raised on Granby Street in what was an Italian-Jewish immigrant near the Shot Tower and Little Italy. As a child, he listened to his father playing the accordion with other neighbors who played guitar and piano. He had an ear for music and picked up the instruments on his own. He was also a good singer.
The family left the old neighborhood and moved to Govans, where he graduated from the eighth grade at St. Mary's School. He and his sister, Clara, and brother, Danny, performed in plays in the family's basement.
He then delivered The Baltimore Sun, both evenings and mornings, and became a machinist. For many years, he worked at Brass and Copper Supply and at Clendenin Brothers on Erdman Avenue. He also moonlighted as a musician.
In 1944, he married singer Lillian Juanita Butler, who performed with him during World War II. They entertained troops at Fort Meade and other military posts. Mr. Cedrone also played at such neighborhood gathering spots as Hollywood Park and Blue Gables on Eastern Avenue, as well as Fogelsanger's in Govans.
Mr. Cedrone sang country-and-western music and performed on radio stations WFBR, WCBM and WBMD. On one occasion, he got his nickname "Smudgie" from a name-the-singer contest. The name stuck and he embarked on a career as Smudgie and the Pals of the Prairie.
He and his wife signed a contract to appear with country singer Tex Ritter shortly after the end of the war.
"I remember seeing them off on that trip at Mount Royal Station," said his brother, retired Evening Sun film critic Louis Cedrone Jr., who lives in Timonium.
The Cedrones also appeared as backup performers with singers Roy Rogers and Dub Taylor.
Their time on the road ended when his wife became pregnant and wanted to return to Baltimore to raise a family.
In 1948, he appeared at the old Hilltop Theater in Baltimore County. He played the accordion in a production of "Dark of the Moon."
Mr. Cedrone continued with his music and shifted his repertoire to pop standards. He eventually joined the Top Tones, a quartet that played at Moose, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars halls for nearly 35 years. They played dances, wedding anniversaries, christenings and bar mitzvahs.
"He had a good ear, and he was at his best when he could feel what the crowd wanted that night," said a fellow musician, Ron Ware. "He had an uncanny ability to keep people on a dance floor."
Mr. Ware described his friend's voice as being "natural and straightforward, like Perry Como." Others said he sounded like Willie Nelson.
He often sang "Sweet Caroline," "Al Di La," "I Fall to Pieces" and "The Rose."
Mr. Cedrone was an accomplished handyman and enjoyed home-improvement projects.
A Mass of Christian burial was held Wednesday at St. Mary of the Assumption in Govans.
In addition to his brother, survivors include his wife of nine years, the former Ethel Burk; four daughters, Judith Kramer of Salisbury and Joanna Crawford, Janice McCrory and Jerri Provance, all of Baltimore; three stepdaughters, Deborah Johansen of Bel Air, Peggy Sue Kohler of Spring Grove, Pa., and Barbara Smith of Reisterstown; two sisters, Philomena Forgione of Lutherville and Lucille Cedrone of Towson; 14 grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren. His first wife of more than 40 years died in 1984.