Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Italian Voice in American Music

Louis Prima

The late-1940s and 1950s were an enthralling time, when American music was being pulled in a thousand directions. By the 30s, jazz and blues had become institutionalised in the American music scene. By mid-40s came up the faster version of jazz -- bepop. By the early-50s, rock-and-roll emerged from the assimilation of jazz and blues on the one hand and European gypsy swing on the other. Amidst all this, and quite unsuspectingly should I say, some beautiful unheard-till-now melodies capture out ears. This is the music of the Italian-Americans.

The operations of the Sicilian and Italian mafia in the USA since the early twentieth century had led to the racial stereotyping of these southern European nationalities as violent and criminal. Like so many other communities, the Italian and Sicilian immigrants, flowing into the USA in the 20s and 30s in the wake of fascism in Italy and the World War II in Europe, were welcome in the new land with hatred and hostility. These immigrants were ghettoised in different American cities into 'Little Italy's. The late-40s, marked a change in the racial/cultural status of these people for the first time. Around this time, several musicians of Italian-American background rose to prominence in the music scene. These included solo vocalists like Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and groups like The Gaylords. These second and third generation singers and musicians brought into American music the beautifully melodious tunes of Italy and Sicily for the first time. Most of these songs were based on traditional Italian/ Sicilian tunes. The lyrics of some were partly in Italian/Sicilian, and partly in English. This music brought southern European instruments like the mandolin and the harmonica into American music in a big way.

Here are some of their melodies:

Louis Prima | Che la luna

Louis Prima | Buona sera

Dean Martin | That's amore

Dean Martin | Mambo Italiano

The Gaylords | From the vine

The Gaylords | Eh cumpari

The Gaylords | Come prima

Frank Sinatra | Luna Rossa

Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin | Glad that we're Italian

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