Connie Francis


Connie Francis
1958
From Connie Francis to Madonna: Italian American Female Singers Come of Age.


Approximately a generation after Italian American males achieved the limelight, their female counterparts attained their own level of remarkable popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps the most successful of this group was Concetta Rose Marie Francanero born in 1938 in the Italian section of Newark, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants from Avellino and Calabria. Recognizing that she had musical talent, her father presented her with an accordion when she was three years old. At 10 years of age she began to appear on Arthur Godfrey's popular television program and at his urging changed her name to Connie Francis. By the time she graduated from Belleville High School, she signed a contract with MGM Records and began a sensational singing career. Her first big hit, "Who's Sorry Now" in 1958, sold a million records and propelled her into the first ranks of popular singers. With her regular appearances on television, especially Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" a favorite of young people, Connie Francis' popularity soared. She made her movie debut in 1961 in "Where the Boys Are," a lighthearted comedy about college students on spring break in Florida, and its sequel "Follow the Boys" --films that were hardly memorable, but served to increase her following. She continued furthermore, to make one hit record after another so that by the early 1960s she became the number one best-selling female singer of her time. She also was voted the nation's top female vocalist for seven consecutive years. Her personal life had its share of disappointment and tragedy. She has been married four times. In addition, in 1974, while on a nightclub engagement, she was raped and robbed, a harrowing experience that took an emotional toll. From that experience she became an advocate for victims' rights, and gradually returned to singing performances. For Italian Americans, Connie Francis was not merely a famous singer of early rock music, she was one who also paid homage to her ethnic roots by making wonderful records of traditional Italian songs such as her plaintive rendition of "Mama" and "Tango della Gelosia" (Jealousy of Love).

Francis would soon be joined by other famous Italian American female singers in the post World War II period. For example, Morgana King (Mary Grace Messina) excelled as a cabaret singer, and Joni James (Joan Carmela Babbo) whose brief career included two gold discs: "Why Don't You Believe Me?" and "Have You Heard." Starring as a singer in shows marked Liza Minelli's career as it does Bernadette Peters (Bernadette Lazzara), a singer and actress who starred in a number of Broadway shows. Kaye Ballard (Catherine Gloria Balotta) has had a long and successful career singing in nightclubs and also singing and acting on screen, television, and stage.

Probably the most well known contemporary female singer of Italian ancestry is Madonna, born in 1959 in Rochester, Michigan as Madonna Veronica Louise Ciccone. Her provocative performances became her trademark on MTV, the widely viewed video channel. Madonna's video release "Like a Virgin" that featured near nudity, erotic imagery, and scenes that bordered on the sacrilegious sold in the millions. While Madonna's ethnicity does not appear to be a prominent feature of her persona, compared to many of the earlier Italian American singers like Connie Francis, she nevertheless is quick to identify her Italian background.

Madonna
Madonna




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