"'O SOLE MIO"
Updated: Aug 27
With the passing of the great popular singer Tony Bennett and the resulting media exposure, I began thinking that so many performers of Italian heritage have gone on to fame, far more than any other nationality. Why is that? Now, this is certainly not a thesis on ethnicity, just a matter of fact that I've found interesting. First of all, let's forget about the great opera singers, such as Andrea Bocelli, Luciano Pavarotti, and Enrico Caruso, and stick with more contemporary singers – those who have had songs on the pop charts. Some of the best, besides the aforementioned Mr. Bennett, include:
The Chairman of the Board, of course, Frank Sinatra, or "Ol' Blue Eyes," is among the world's best-selling music artists with an estimated 150 million record sales. His renditions of “That’s Life”, “New York, New York”, “Fly Me To The Moon”, “Strangers In The Night” and “My Way” are absolute classics and are "owned" by The Chairman.
Dean Martin, (born Dino Paul Crocetti) was one of the most popular entertainers of the mid-20th century. He was nicknamed "The King of Cool." His best-known songs include "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?," "Memories Are Made of This," "That's Amore," "Everybody Loves Somebody," "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You," "Sway," and "Volare."
Okay, now we dealt with the "Big 3" – the best of the best – which really shouldn't have surprised anyone. So let's move on to perhaps a surprise or two . . . like Morgana King, whom you may know as the wife of "The Godfather" in the blockbusting movie. Well, Morgana, born Maria Grazia Morgana Messina, began a professional singing career at age sixteen. When she sang in a Greenwich Village nightclub in 1953, a record label executive took an interest after being impressed with the unique phrasing and multi-octave range. Three years later in 1956, her first album, For You, For Me, For Evermore, was released. In 1964, she received a Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist. The award went to some non-Italians called The Beatles.
Bobby Darin, born Walden Robert Cassotto, was an Italian-American musician who performed jazz, pop, rock and roll, folk, swing, and country music. His first million-selling single, Splish Splash, in 1958 was followed by Dream Lover, Mack the Knife, and Beyond the Sea, which brought him worldwide fame. Interestingly, Darin started his career as a songwriter for Connie Francis, born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero, a top-charting female vocalist of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Called the "First Lady of Rock & Roll, she is estimated to have sold more than 100 million records worldwide.
Some years after Miss Franconero dominated the charts, a couple of other Italian-American female singers, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (Lady Gaga) and Madonna Ciccone (you know who I mean) gave "dominating the charts" a new name. The Lady sold an estimated 170 million records and is one of the world's best-selling music artists and the only female artist to achieve four singles each selling at least 10 million copies globally. Not to be outdone, Miss Ciccone, after originally performing as a drummer, guitarist, and vocalist in several rock bands, rose to solo stardom with her debut studio album, Madonna (1983). She followed it with a series of successful albums, including all-time bestsellers "Like a Virgin," "True Blue" and "The Immaculate Collection," as well as Grammy Award winners "Ray of Light " and "Confessions on a Dance Floor."
Several of my namesake singers did pretty good for themselves. Lou Christie, born Luigi Alfredo Giovanni Sacco, reached number one on the country chart with "Lightnin' Strikes" in 1966; Lou Monte (born Louis Scaglione) was best known for a number of best-selling, Italian-themed novelty records, most famously "Lazy Mary" and the million-selling US single "Pepino the Italian Mouse." Louis Leo Prima was an American trumpeter, singer, entertainer, and bandleader. While rooted in New Orleans jazz, swing music, and jump blues, Prima touched on various genres throughout his career. Some of his most popular songs include his medley of "Just a Gigolo" and "I Ain't Got Nobody."
Okay, I think I made my point. But, just in case, there's Julius La Rosa with “Ehh Cumpari”; Jimmy Durante with "Young at Heart"; Frankie Avalon (born Francis Thomas Avallone) with "Venus"; Vic Damone (born Vito Rocco Farinola) with "I Have But One Heart";”, Jerry Vale, born as Genaro Louis Vitaliano, with “Pretend You Don’t See Her”; Jimmy Roselli, born Michael John Roselli, broke in big with his first album selling over 3 million copies featuring the hit song "Male Femmena"; John Francis Bongiovi Jr. (known professionally as Jon Bon Jovi) has released 15 studio albums with his band as well as two solo albums. Frankie Valli (Francesco Stephen Castelluccio) hit the charts with The Four Seasons singing "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man," and Dion, born Dion Francis DiMucci, who, with The Belmonts, hit it big with "I Wonder Why."
Well, I guess I can go on, but I suddenly got the urge for a big plate of pasta, so . . . Wait! How can we forget America's favorite Television singer, Perry Como. Born Pierino Ronald Como, “Mr. C “, as
some called him, had one of the most peaceful and relaxing voices, and starred in his own television show for years. In addition, "Mr. C" had fourteen songs that reached No. 1, including "Till The End Of Time"; "Prisoner of Love"; "Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba"; "Some Enchanted Evening"; Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes"; "Wanted" and "Catch a Falling Star". And, we must give honorable mention to Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen. "The Boss" is of Dutch, Irish, and Italian descent. His mother's maiden name was, Adele Ann Zerilli.
It's interesting to see how many Italian-American households were touched by the sprite of musical talent, while totally ignoring the Duro abode. I couldn't carry a tune with a forklift!