Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October is Italian Heritage Month

Dean Martin & Frank Sinatra
On October 10 we celebrate the legacy of Christopher Columbus, the Italian who changed everything for the Western Hemisphere.  To commemorate the achievements of other Italians in the Americas, a group of Italian Americans has been working to make October National Italian Heritage Month.  Italian-Americans have been some of the most influential and important singers in American popular music.  The most famously Italian are four crooners, silky-throated singers of popular ballads: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como, and Tony Bennett (originally Benedetto).  Many of their recordings are still popular today.

Before them, Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso was one of the earliest stars of the recording industry, and is still remembered for the song, Il Sole Mio.  (This song was Americanized as "It's Now or Never" by Elvis Presley)  Caruso was a regular performer at New York's Metropolitan Opera and a part-time resident of New York City.

Harry Warren
Like other non-English speaking immigrants, many Italian-Americans changed their names to English surnames.   The father of hit songwriter Harry Warren (born as Salvatore Antonio Guaragna) changed the family name to "Warren."  Warren was one of the most prolific songwriters of the twentieth century, publishing over 500 songs including his Academy-Award winning Lullaby of Broadway (for Golddiggers of 1935) and That's Amore (popularized by Dean Martin), We're in the Money and the music for 42nd Street. Original editions of some of his sheet music of individual songs are preserved in the Bracken Library Special Collections.

Throughout the more recent history of popular music, Italian-Americans have made their mark on the music scene, including:

Jon Bon Jovi (born John Francis Bongiovi)
Sonny Bono
Bobby Darin (born Walden Robert Cassotto)
Jim Croce
Connie Francis (born Concetta Rosemarie Franconero)
Madonna (born Madonna Louise Ciccone)
Tim McGraw
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi
Joe Satriani
Nikki Sixx (born Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna)
Gwen Stefani
Steven Tyler (born Steven Tallarico) of Aerosmith
Steve Vai
"Weird Al" Yankovic
Frank Zappa

Chick Corea

Jazz Musicians

Louie Bellson (born Luigi Ballassoni)
Guy Lombardo
Al Di Meola
Joe Pass (born Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalaqua)
Louis Prima (also the voice of King Louie of the Apes in The Jungle Book)

And most recently, "Lady Gaga," whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, teamed up with fellow Italian-American Tony Bennett on "The Lady is a Tramp" for his second album of duets (released last month).

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