Dear Mr. Know-It-All, I know that a lot of singers of Italian descent had successful pop music careers in the 1950s and 1960s, but I'm having trouble tracking all of them down. Can you help me? N.O., Westborough.
Dear Mr. Know-It-All,
I know that a lot of singers of Italian descent had successful pop music careers in the 1950s and 1960s, but I'm having trouble tracking all of them down. Can you help me?
All of them, N.O.? Can I say "n-o" to that?
"Hold on," you say. "You're Mr. Know-It-All. You should be able to name all the singers who fit N.O.'s description or you're just a big, fat fraud."
Hold it, I am not fat. And how dare you question my omniscience? Of course, I could name all the singers that fit N.O.'s description, but space limitations prevent me from doing so. For brevity's sake, let's focus on the years between 1955 -- when Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" became the first rock 'n' roll hit to top Billboard's pop charts -- and 1964, when the Beatles and the British invasion changed the pop music landscape.
One of the reasons N.O. is having trouble tracking down these singers is that so many of them changed, shortened or anglicized their names. Frank Sinatra Francis Albert to his mom and Perry Como Pierino to his mom were two singers of Italian descent who kept their family names intact. What about Al Martino, you say? Sorry, he was born Alfred Cini.
For the record, Sinatra charted 46 songs from 1955 to 1964, including the No. 1 hit "Learnin' the Blues" in 1955, and amassed six Top Ten hits. By 1980, he had charted a total of 75 songs and two more No. 1 hits "Strangers in the Night" in 1966 and "Somethin' Stupid" in 1967 with his daughter Nancy. Frank's Billboard hit-maker ranking: eighth in the 1950s, 28th in the 1960s and 28th all time.
Como charted 38 songs from 1955 to 1964, scoring three no. 1 hits with "Hot Diggity (Dog Diggity Boom)" in 1956, "Round And Round" in 1957 and "Catch a Falling Star" in 1958. Top Ten hits from this period numbered 10. All told, he charted 53. Como's hit-maker ranking: third in 1950s and 39th all time.
Both the careers of Sinatra and Como pre-date the rock era, so they were charting songs and wowing audiences long before Buddy Holly and the Crickets started chirping.
Ditto for Johnny Desmond and Frankie Laine. Desmond, who was born Giovanni DeSimone, charted four songs in 1955 and 1957, including two Top Ten hits, "Play Me Hearts and Flowers (I Wanna Cry)" and "The Yellow Rose of Texas," both from 1955. Laine, born Francesco LoVecchio, charted seven songs from 1955 to 1963 and 10 afterwards, including two Top Ten hits, "Moonlight Gambler" (1956) and "Love Is a Golden Ring" (1957). He charted 44 songs from 1947 to 1954, including "High Noon."
Two singers who kept their family names just happened to be born in Italy: Domenico Modugno, who topped the charts in 1958 with "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu, aka "Volare," and Emilio Pericoli, who had a Top Ten hit in 1962 with "Al Di La."
One can assume that had Modugno and Pericoli decided to shift their careers permanently to America their agents might have suggested a name change. Care to try to pronounce "Modugno" correctly all ye who aren't familiar with the Italian language?
The name Dean Martin is certainly easier on the tongue than Dino Crocetti -- that's the crooner's real moniker. Martin charted 17 songs from 1955 to 1964, including two No. 1 hits, "Memories Are Made of This" in 1955 and "Everybody Loves Somebody" in 1964. Top Ten hits numbered four. All told, he charted 42 songs. His Top Ten hit "That's Amore" dates from 1953. Martin's hit-maker ranking: 45th in the 1950s and 112th all time.
Another name that doesn't translate commercially is Lugee Sacco. That's the real moniker of Lou Christie, who recorded the majority of his 18 chart makers makers after 1964, including the No. 1 hit "Lightnin' Strikes" in 1965. His first Top Ten hit, "Two Faces Have I," dates from 1963. In 1961, he recorded as Lugee and the Lions.
Then there's Concetta Rosa Marie Franconero. That name wouldn't fit on too many marquees. However, Connie Francis would. From 1957 to 1964, she charted 51 songs, making her pop music's No. 1 female vocalist from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. Francis charted another 16 songs afterward. Her three No. 1 hits include "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" (1960), "My Heart Has a Mind of its Own" (1960) and "Don't Break the Heart that Loves You" (1962). Top Ten hits numbered 16. Francis' hit-maker ranking: 27th in the 1950s, 7th in the 1960s and 26th all time.
Francis wasn't the only female pop singer to change her name. So did Edith Gormezano, better known as Eydie Gorme. She charted 14 songs from 1956 to 1964 and 10 afterward. Her lone Top Ten hit was "Blame It on the Bossa Nova" from 1963. She's been married to Steve Lawrence since 1957 and, as everyone knows, they recorded as Parker & Penny in 1979.
One of pop's greatest singers was Waldon Robert Cassotto. You may know him better as Bobby Darin, who charted 34 songs from 1958 to 1964 and 14 afterward. He likely would have had more but he died of heart failure in 1973 at 37. Darin's lone No. 1 hit was the classic "Mack the Knife." Top Ten hits during this period totaled nine. Darin's hit-maker rankings: 43rd in the 1950s, 22nd in the 1960s and 56th all time.
Anthony Dominick Benedetto actually changed his name twice. Early in his career, he went by the stage name Joe Bari. However, his career fared much better after he altered his moniker to Tony Bennett, reportedly acting on the advice of Bob Hope. From 1956 to 1964, Bennett charted 27 songs and 11 afterward, including one Top Ten hit, "In the Middle Road of an Island" (1957). His signature song, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," reached only 19th place on the charts in 1962. Bennett"s hit-maker ranking: 44th in the 1950s, 197th all time. We should note that from 1951 to 1954, Bennett, one of jazz's greatest vocalists, charted such monster hits as "Rags to Riches" and "Stranger in Paradise."
It's now teen time. Bobby Rydell, born Robert Ridarelli, charted 32 songs from 1959 to 1964, and only one song afterward. Top Ten hits totaled six, including his biggest hit, "Wild One" from 1960. Rydell's hit-maker ranking: 29th in the 1960s, 124th all time. Trivia buffs will know that early in his career, Rydell was the drummer in Rocco & His Saints, whose trumpeter was Frankie Avalon. Both Rydell and Avalon were Philadelphia-born teen idols.
Speaking of Avalon, he was born Francis Avellone and from 1958 to 1962 he charted 31 songs, including two No. 1 hits, "Venus" and "Why," both from 1959, and registered seven Top Ten Hits. He also holds the distinction of being the No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 artist of 1959. Avalon's hit-maker rankings: 24th in the 1950s, 152nd all time. He also co-starred in several movies with Annette.
Speaking of Annette -- like these transitions? -- she was born Annette Funicello, and from 1959 to 1963 the former Mouseketeer charted 13 songs, including two Top 10 hits, "Tall Paul" in 1959 and "O Dio Mio" in 1960. Annette also owns the distinction of being one of the first, if not the first, female pop performers to go by only her first name.
And the first male pop performer who can make that claim? As a soloist artist, we'll submit Fabian. In a group setting, we'll submit Dion of Dion and the Belmonts fame.
Fabian Forte, yet another teen idol from Philadelphia, charted 10 hits in 1959 and 1960, including three Top Ten hits, "Turn Me Loose," "Tiger" and "Hound Dog Man," all from 1959.
Dion DiMucci first recorded as Dion and the Timberlanes before forming the doo-wop group Dion and the Belmonts, named after Belmont Avenue in the Bronx. The group charted seven songs from 1958 to 1960, including two Top Ten hits, "A Teenager in Love" and "Where Or When," both from 1959. Dion scored even more hits as a solo performer, charting 22 songs from 1960 to 1964, including the No. 1 hit "Runaround Sue," and racking up eight Top Ten hits. After 1964, Dion charted seven more songs, including "Abraham, Martin and John" from 1968. Dion's hit-maker rankings: 21st in the 1960s, 77th all time.
Like Dion, Frankie Valli, born Francis Castelluccio, had a successful solo career, but he recorded far more hits as the lead singer of The Four Seasons. This group took its name from a New Jersey bowling alley. Valli was previously a member of The Variatones and The Four Lovers. From 1956 to 1964, The Four Seasons charted 26 songs, including four No. 1 hits, "Sherry" (1962), "Big Girls Don't Cry" (1962), "Walk Like a Nan" (1963) and "Rag Doll" (1964), and registered eight Top Ten hits. From 1965 to 1980, the group charted 28 more songs, including the No. 1 hit "December, 1963 (Oh What a Night") in 1975. The group's hit-maker rankings: 6th in the 1960s, 32nd all time.
As a solo artist, Valli charted 17 songs from 1965 to 1980, including two No. 1 hits, "My Eyes Adored You" (1974) and "Grease" (the title song of the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John), and tallied four Top Ten hits. We should add that he recorded his first single in 1953 as Frank Valley.
Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon was born Frederick Picariello in Lynn, Mass. From 1959 to 1964, Cannon charted 22 songs and seven afterward. His three Top Ten hits were "Tallahassee Lassie" (1959), "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" (1959) and "Palisades Park" (1962). He got the nickname from the booming bass drum sound on his records. Cannon's hit-maker ranking: 287th all time.
From Winthrop come the Addrisi Brothers Dick and Don. No name change here. The duo charted one song, "Cherrystone," in 1959. They charted six more from 1972 and 1979. They also wrote "Never My Love," a No. 2 hit for The Association in 1967.
Former Canadian teen idol Bobby Curtola also kept his birth name. In the United States, he charted two songs, "Fortune Teller" and "Aladdin," both from 1962.
Giovanni Scafone Jr., however, underwent a major moniker overhaul as the Canadian-born singer became better known as Jack Scott. He charted 19 songs from 1958 to 1961, including four Ten Top hits, " My True Love" (1958), "Goodbye Baby" (1958), "What in the World's Come over You" (1960) and "Burning Bridges" (1960).
Genaro Vitaliano also performed some surgery on his birth name, adopting the moniker Jerry Vale for his singing career. He charted seven songs from 1956 to 1964 and eight afterward. He first hit the charts in 1954. His biggest hit was "You Don't Know Me," which reached No. 14 in 1956.
We have not forgotten John Ramistella, better known as Johnny Rivers. While he had two Top Ten hits in 1964 - "Memphis" and "Mountain of Love," Rivers enjoyed most of his success from 1965 to 1977, including the No. 1 hit "Poor Side of Town" from 1966.
Finally, we'll pay tribute to Johnny Maestro, the lead singer of The Crests, The Del-Satins and The Brooklyn Bridge, who died in March at 70. Born Johnny Mastrangelo, he charted 15 songs with The Crests from 1957 to 1963, including the Top Ten hit, "Sixteen Candles" (1958). With The Brooklyn Bridge, he charted eight more from 1968 to 1970, including the Top Ten hit "Worst That Could Happen" (1968).
So did Mr. K leave out anyone? If he did, he's only doing so to see if his readers are sharp enough to catch the omissions. For example, the most famous singer of Italian heritage who changed his name was, of course, Elvis Preslino. OK, maybe not.
Mr. K tips his chapeau to "Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles," a fabulous resource book that provided information for this article.
Mr. Know-It-All, aka Bob Tremblay of The MetroWest Daily News, can be reached at 508-626-4409 or a email@example.com.