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by Cookie Curci
As a writer of nostalgia, I have a passion for things and events that have faded into the past: things such as the grand old Wurlitzer jukebox that once held a place of honor in my Dad's 1940's soda shop, and the classic chromed Seeburg jukebox that later took center stage in the 1950's and '60s. As the youngest child in my family, I led a charmed existence, absorbing all the sights and sounds of my family's musical tastes. When Mom and Dad pressed the buttons on the colorful jukebox, it was usually to select the big band sound backing up the "the voice" of the 20th century, Frank Sinatra. When my older brother, Tony, selected a tune it was usually sung by one of the romantic Italian-American crooners of the day: Dean Martin, Tony Bennett (Antonio Benedetto), Vic Damone (Vito Farinola), Jerry Vale (Genaro Louis Vitaliano), Don Cornell (Luigi Varlaro) and Frankie Laine (Frank Paul LoVecchio)
Pop tunes stayed on the jukebox a long time in those days, long enough for music fans to memorize the button keys of our favorite songs. To this day, I can still recall B-6, Dino's "That's Amore" and C-4 Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night". Other jukebox buttons gave us the teenage singing idols of the day, which, nine times out of 10, were young Italian American singers from South Philadelphia. There was "Venus" by Frankie Avalon (Frank Avallone), "Wild One" by Bobby Rydell (Roberto Ridarelli), "Turn Me Loose" by Fabian (Fabian Forte), "Mack the Knife" by Bobby Darin (Robert Cossotto), "Big Girls Don't Cry" by Frankie Valli and "At the Hop" by Joey Dee (Joseph DiNicola). The music scene of the 1950s brought a renaissance of Italian-American singers. These singers and their songs flirted for the teenage boys when they didn't have the courage to speak. At other times, these singers made musical love to us as our fancies took flight at their tender words and phrases.
Amid this sea of Italian male singers was one lone female vocalist who managed to make her mark in the world of rock 'n' roll. Her birth name was Concetta Rosemarie Franconero, but she was better known as Connie Francis. Her million selling album "Italian Favorites" and the song "Mama" became a mainstay in every Italian American home while her rock 'n' roll hits "Stupid cupid", "Where the Boys Are", "My Happiness" and "Among My Souvenirs" took the pop world by storm.
These singers spoke to a generation and for a generation. Frank Sinatra's singing style remains an unequaled blend of defiant tough-guy and gentle lyricist, a musical style that continues to appeal to every age and generation. His W.W.II recordings, "I'll Be Seeing You" and "I'll Never Smile Again" topped the charts week after week and spoke to the thousands of young men and women separated by the war. Sinatra's music touched the heart of a generation in a way no other singer ever has.
Dean Martin's warm, romantic, "Everybody Loves Somebody" style, endeared him to the pop culture that loved a good time and good music. His recording of "That's Amore" remains one of America's most played tunes. Few of us can hear this happy song without feeling just a little bit better afterwards.
Perry Como, like most of his Italian-American singing peers, was born to immigrant parents. Perry Como had 148 top 40 hits during his career, among them: "Prisoner of Love", "Wanted" and "It's Impossible." While Dean and Frank were busy forming the "rat pack", and Perry Como was starring on a new medium called television, another singer from "Philly" was making his mark in the music world. Teens were listening to a new Italian-American voice on the jukebox. His name was Mario Lanza (Alfredo Arnold Cocozza), and he is one of the few singers who managed to bring an operatic voice to pop music. His song "Coma Prima", and "The Most Wonderful Night of the Year" topped the charts and opened the doors for future Italian tenors to come.
Al Martino's musical styling earned him a place as one of America's most popular crooners. His recording of "Spanish eyes" is among the worlds top 50 most requested songs. Many of us can still remember punching those favorite keys on the jukebox to hear this song over and over again. The Italian-American singer has always symbolized romance, tradition and love.
The music we listened to and the singers who sang the songs we loved had a great influence on the 20th century music world. Through these entertainers and theirs songs we are able to remember with more passionate clarity the love and romances of our lives.
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