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Italian Americans Pg. 3

October is Italian American Heritage Month. This page is a continuation of the Italian Americans page. It summaries 15 more of 32 famous Italian Americans, one for each day of October, and 1 for good luck. When available we link to websites that follow the subject.

Liberace

Liberace was born Wladziu Valentino Liberace on May 16, 1919, in West Allis, Wisconsin, his middle name was taken from one of his mother’s favorite film stars—Rudolph Valentino. Little did she know that her son would develop a devoted following of his own one day.

Władziu Valentino Liberace was known as “Lee” to his friends and “Walter” to family. His father, Salvatore (“Sam”) Liberace was an immigrant from Formia in the Lazio region of central Italy. His mother, Frances Zuchowska  was Polish. Liberace had an identical twin who died at birth. He had three siblings: a brother George (who was a violinist), a sister Angelina, and younger brother Rudy, Rudolph Valentino Liberace, named after the actor due to his mother’s interest in show business.

Who Was Liberace?

Liberace appeared as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 16. He later began giving concerts in flamboyant costumes with ornate pianos and candelabra, playing primarily popular music. Very successful, he hosted his own TV variety series, The Liberace Show (1952–55, 1969), and appeared in films such as Sincerely Yours (1955). With his unique blend of classical training and over-the-top showmanship, Liberace was one of the most famous performers of the 20th century. In later years he performed frequently in Las Vegas.

Websites: Who Was Liberace? Liberace Museum Collection
The Liberace Foundation for the Creative and Performing Arts
Liberace Garage InstaTour™

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William Paca

The official seal of the state of Maryland reads Fatti, Maschii, Parola Femine, which is Italian for “Manly Deeds, Womanly Words.” It is the only state motto written in Italian, and Maryland also was the only state that was home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was of Italian heritage. His name is William Paca

William Paca’s ancestors came to America during the mid-1600s. Robert Paca was the first to arrive, coming to the colonies from England. He married an English woman, received a grant of land in Anne Arundel County and had one son, Aquila, the grandfather of William.

William Paca was born on October 31, 1740, to a wealthy planter in Maryland. In 1752, William and his brother were sent to attend school at the Academy and Charity School. When he had finished his studies, he attended the College of Philadelphia and graduated with a bachelor of the arts degree in 1759. In 1762, he achieved a master of the arts degree.

His signature can be found among 55 others, on the Declaration of Independence. Years later, as a delegate to the Maryland Convention, he voted to adopt the U.S. Constitution. Paca’s public service included terms as a Maryland state senator, its chief justice and as a three-term governor. He also was appointed a federal district judge by President George Washington.

Websites: William Paca House
William Paca was a United States politician
The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence Click Here
William Paca and the American Revolution

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Amadeo Giannini

Amadeo Pietro Giannini was born in San Jose, California, to Italian immigrant parents. He was the first son of Luigi Giannini and Virginia (Demartini) Giannini. Luigi Giannini immigrated to the United States from Favale di Malvaro near Genoa, Liguria in the Kingdom of Sardinia to prospect in response to the California Gold Rush of 1849. When Amadeo’s Father was murdered by an employee over a payroll dispute, his mother took over the operation of the produce business.

In 1880, Virginia married Lorenzo Scatena who began L. Scatena & Co. Giannini attended Heald College but realized he could do better in business than at school. In 1885, he dropped out and took a full-time position as a produce broker for L. Scatena & Co.

Giannini worked as a produce broker, commission merchant and produce dealer for farms in the Santa Clara Valley. He was quite successful in that business.

Bank of Italy

Giannini founded the Bank of Italy in San Francisco on October 17, 1904. The bank was housed in a converted saloon as an institution for the “little fellow”. It was a new bank for the hardworking immigrants other banks would not serve. He offered those ignored customers savings accounts and loans, judging them not by their wealth, but by their character.

Branch banking was introduced by Giannini shortly after 1909 legislation in California that allowed for branch banking in the state. Its first branch outside San Francisco was established in 1909 in San Jose. By 1916, Giannini had expanded and opened several other branches. Giannini believed in branch banking as a way to stabilize banks during difficult times as well as expand the capital base. He bought banks throughout California and eventually Bank of Italy had hundreds of branches throughout the state.

Bank of America

Through mergers and acquisitions eventually the Bank of Italy became Bank of America, and one of the most successful Banks in the World.

Websites: A.P. Giannini Foundation
A.P. Giannini and his Bank of America

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Vic Damone

One of the prototypical Italian-American crooners, Vic Damone parlayed a smooth, mellow baritone into big-time pop stardom during the ’40s and ’50s. Early in his career, his inflection and phrasing were clearly indebted to Frank Sinatra, who once famously called him “the best set of pipes in the business.” Overall, though, Damone’s style was softer than Sinatra’s and owed less to the elasticity of jazz, especially since he was a solo performer who never served an apprenticeship with a swing orchestra. Very much the heartthrob in his heyday, his repertoire relied heavily on romantic ballads, though he did sprinkle in the occasional pop novelty or Italian folk song. He managed a parallel career as a film actor and, later, a TV variety host, and remained an active nightclub performer for decades after he disappeared from the charts.

Damone was born Vito Rocca Farinola in Brooklyn, New York, on June 12, 1928. His mother was a piano teacher and his father an electrician who also sang and played guitar, but it was Sinatra who provided his first musical awakening, and inspired him to start voice lessons. His first performances came in a youth choir and at school events. When his father was seriously injured in a work accident, young Vic was forced to drop out of school to help support the family, and got a job at the Paramount Theater in Manhattan as an usher and elevator operator. One night, while taking Perry Como up to his dressing room, Vic gave an impromptu performance and asked the singer if he had any talent; Como encouraged him, referred him to a local bandleader, and became something of a mentor to him.

Adopting his mother’s maiden name, Damone won first place on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show in 1947, which led to regular professional gigs on local radio. While on the set of the show, he also met Milton Berle, who helped him get gigs at the prominent nightclubs La Martinique and the Aquarium. All the attention landed the 19-year-old Damone a record deal with Mercury in fairly short order. His debut single, “I Have But One Heart,” sold well, and the follow-ups, “You Do” and the Patti Page duet “Say Something Sweet to Your Sweetheart,” were also successful. He began hosting his own radio show, Saturday Night Serenade, and played big New York venues like the Copa and the Paramount (where he’d once worked).

Websites: Vic Damone

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Tony Bennett

Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born on August 3, 1926 at St. John’s Hospital in Long Island City, Queens, NY. He is the son of grocer John Benedetto and seamstress Anna Suraci, and was the first member of his family to be born in a hospital. His father John had emigrated from Podàrgoni, a rural eastern district of the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria. Anna had been born in the U.S. shortly after her parents also emigrated from the Calabria region in 1899.

Raised in Astoria to an Italian-American family, The essence of his longevity and high artistic achievement was imbued in him in his loving, childhood home in the Astoria section of Queens where he was born on August 3, 1926. His father died when Tony was 10 and his mother, Anna, raised Tony and his older brother and sister, John and Mary, in a home surrounded by loving relatives who were Tony’s first fans, filling him with encouragement and optimism. He attended the High School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan, where he continued nurturing his two passions: singing and painting. From the radio, he developed a love of music hearing Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and James Durante.

Bennett began singing at an early age, known professionally as Tony Bennett, an Italian American singer. He is also a painter, having created works under his birth name that are on permanent public display in several institutions. He is the founder of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens, New York.

No one in popular American music has recorded for so long and at such a high level of excellence than Tony Bennett. In the last ten years alone he has sold ten million records.

Website: Tony Bennett

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Perry Como

Pierino RonaldPerryComo was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, about 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. He was the seventh of ten children and the first American-born child of Pietro Como and Lucia Travaglini, who both immigrated to the US in 1910 from the Abruzzese town of Palena, Italy. He did not begin speaking English until he entered school, since the Comos spoke Italian at home. The family had a second-hand organ his father had bought for $3; as soon as little Pierino was able to toddle, he would head to the instrument, pump the bellows, and play music he had heard by ear. Como was a member of the Canonsburg Italian Band along with the father of singer Bobby Vinton, bandleader Stan Vinton, who was often a customer at his barber shop.

Young Como started helping his family at age 10, working before and after school in Steve Fragapane’s barber shop for 50¢ a week. By age 13, he had graduated to having his own chair in the Fragapane barber shop, although he stood on a box to tend to his customers. It was also around this time that young Como lost his week’s wages in a dice game. Filled with shame, he locked himself in his room and did not come out until hunger got the better of him. He managed to tell his father what had happened to the money his family depended on. His father told him he was entitled to make a mistake and that he hoped his son would never do anything worse than this. When Perry was 14, his father became unable to work because of a severe heart condition. Como and his brothers became the support of the household. Despite his musical ability, Como’s primary ambition was to become the best barber in Canonsburg. Practicing on his father, young Como mastered the skills well enough to have his own shop at age 14. Read More

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Dean Martin

Dean Martin, born Dino Paul Crocetti; June 7, 1917 – December 25, 1995

Was an Italian American singer, movie star, TV Star, Comedian/Nightclub Performer. He  was born in Steubenville, Ohio, to Italian parents, Gaetano and Angela Crocetti.

The sound of Dino’s voice echoes from the scratchy 45rpm record on my dads turntable, filling the room with nostalgia.

‘When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore. When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine, you’re in love.’ His hit song “That’s Amore”–or, as we used to call it, “the pizza song”–brings back memories of the early 1950s. If you not old enough to remember  this, just try to think about love and you will feel it.

Martin, like his song “That’s Amore” captured the charm that is Italy and emerges as the number one Italian-American pop singer who best typified those feelings in music.

He exemplified the easygoing spirit that flows through the Italian way of life. When Dino passed away in 1995, on Christmas day, WE as Italian Americans felt as if a distant friend had left us. The songs of Dean Martin will always rekindle within us those happy memories of a lifetime that can not be erased.

Websites: Dean Martin: “King of Cool” Visit Site
Dean Martin: Official Website
Dean Martin Roasts on YouTube

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Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra was Born December 12, 1915, at 415 Monroe Street, Hoboken, New Jersey. The only child of Italian immigrants, Natalie Della Garaventa and Antonino Martino Sinatra. Frank was raised Roman Catholic.

Frank got his first break in 1935, into show business when his mother persuaded a local singing group, The Three Flashes, to let him join. Then on December 31, 1942, Sinatra made a “legendary opening” at the Paramount Theater in New York, he then signed with Columbia on June 1, 1943, as a solo artist. In 1948, Sinatra’s career was stalling, but after 2 years he returned to the concert stage on January 12, 1950, in Hartford, Connecticut.

On February 25, 1995, at a private party for 1200 select guests on the closing night of the Frank Sinatra Desert Classic golf tournament, Sinatra sang before a live audience for the very last time.

Frank’s career lasted  60 years.  His legacy will live on forever! His  Motto was “The Best Is Yet to Come”

A Display about Italian Americans  would not be complete without Frank Sinatra and his legacy. He was and will always be the “Chairman of the Board” Frank died at 10:50 pm on May 14, 1998

Perhaps a single phrase stated by performer Elton John says it all. Elton said: Frank Sinatra, “was simply the best – no one else even comes close“

Visit Frank Sinatra Website

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Connie Francis

The 20th Century produced many popular singers. Of all the great “girl singers,” no one personified her generation, or was more idolized by millions across the world than Connie Francis, who was born Concetta Maria Franconero on December 12, 1937 in the Italian section of Newark, New Jersey, the daughter and first child of George and Ida Franconero, Italian-American parents.​​

From the age of three, George Franconero recognized his daughter’s outstanding talent and, at his persistence, she began taking accordion lessons. However, her musical ingenuity would not be served well by the accordion, but because she was blessed with a golden voice; one that the world would come to adore, and which would inspire and touch the hearts of many millions.
Website: Connie Francis

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Annette Funicello

Annette Joanne Funicello was born October 22, 1942, in Utica, New York, to Italian-Americans Virginia Jeanne Albano and Joseph Edward Funicello. Her family moved to Southern California when she was four years old.

Funicello began her professional career as a child performer at the age of twelve. She rose to prominence as one of the most popular Mouseketeers on the original Mickey Mouse Club.

She later starred in films like The Shaggy Dog and the Beach Party series with Frankie Avalon. She opened the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Disorders in 1993.
Website: Annette Funicello

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Giada DeLaurentiis

Giada Pamela De Laurentiis  is an Italian-American chef, writer, and television personality. She is the host of Food Network’s Giada at Home. Giada Pamela De Benedetti was born on August 22, 1970, in Rome, Italy, the eldest child of actress Veronica De Laurentiis and her first husband, actor-producer Alex De Benedett. In 1977 at the age of 7, Giada’s parents left Italy and came to the United States. They lived briefly in Florida, and New York and then moved to Los Angeles.

Giada is the Emmy award winning television personality of Food Network’s Everyday Italian, Giada at Home, Giada’s Weekend Getaways, Giada In Paradise, Giada In Italy, Giada’s Holiday Handbook, Giada Entertains, Giada On The Beach, a judge on Food Network Star and Winner Cake All, a NBC Today Show contributor, and a successful restaurateur with restaurants GIADA and Pronto by Giada in Las Vegas, as well as GDL Italian in Baltimore. She is the author of nine New York Times bestselling cookbooks, including her most recent, Giada’s Italy, in addition to her children’s book series, Recipe for Adventure. Giada launched the lifestyle and e-commerce platform, Giadzy.com in 2017, which showcases new recipes, entertaining and travel tips, and videos, along with a range of kitchen products.

Website: Giada DeLaurentiis

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Joe DiMaggio

Born as Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio in Martinez, California on November 25, 1914, Joe DiMaggio was the fourth son, and eighth child of nine children born to Sicilian immigrants Guiseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio. The couple had traveled to America in 1898, leaving behind the community of Isola delle Femmine off the coast of Sicily and the waters where the DiMaggios had been fishermen for generations.

DiMaggio’s father, Guiseppe, brought his family from Italy to the Martinez fishing community and then later, when Joe was one-year-old, to the Italian neighborhood North Beach in San Francisco in hopes of better fishing and an improved way of life for the family.

Because of the family business’s span over generations, Guiseppe hoped his sons would go with tradition and join him as fishermen. While Joe’s older brothers, Tom and Michael, followed in their father’s footsteps, Joe was uninterested. His disdain for the smell of dead fish and his desire to do anything to get out of cleaning the fishing boat did not go over well with Guiseppe, who was known to insult Joe with words like “good for nothing.” Two of Joe’s brothers Dom and Vince also became Professional Baseball players with respectable careers.

Joe was a New York Yankee his entire Career
Dom was a Boston Red Sox his entire Career
Vince played for many teams – Boston Bees, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Giants. Read More

Websites: Joe DiMaggio

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Dom DiMaggio

Dominic Paul DiMaggio was born on February 12, 1917 born to Sicilian immigrants, Guiseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio. The couple had traveled to America in 1898, leaving behind the community of Isola delle Femmine off the coast of Sicily and the waters where the DiMaggios had been fishermen for generations.

Dom was nicknamed “The Little Professor”,  and was an American Major League Baseball center fielder. He played his entire 11-year baseball career for the Boston Red Sox (1940–1953). DiMaggio was the youngest of three brothers who each became major league center fielders, the others being Joe and Vince.

Much like his older brother did in ’41, Dom built a hit streak of his own in ’49. The hitting streak grew to 34 games before it was ended when his brother made a great catch in Dom’s final at-bat on Aug. 9. His 34-game hitting streak is still a Red Sox record.

In 1959, DiMaggio joined forces with nine other New Englanders, led by Billy Sullivan, to found and capitalize a Boston American football team that debuted in 1960 as the AFL’s Boston Patriots.

Website: Dom ” The Little Professor” DiMaggio

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Vince DiMaggio

Vincent Paul DiMaggio was born September 6, 1912, in Martinez, California, to Sicilian immigrants Guiseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio. The couple had traveled to America in 1898, leaving behind the community of Isola delle Femmine off the coast of Sicily and the waters where the DiMaggios had been fishermen for generations. Vince was the oldest brother of Joe and Dom DiMaggio.

And the first brother to Play Major League Baseball as a center fielder. During a 10-year baseball career, he played for the Boston Bees (1937–1938), Cincinnati Reds (1939–1940), Pittsburgh Pirates (1940–1945), Philadelphia Phillies (1945–1946), and New York Giants (1946).

Older than Joe and Dom, Vince was discovered first, and the teenage Joe used to enviously watch him play professional ball. Blessed with some power and good fielding, Vince once claimed that he could run rings around Joe in the outfield.

Website: Vince DiMaggio

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Phil Rizzuto

Rizzuto was born on September 25, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, the son of a streetcar motorman and his wife, both of whom were originally from Calabria, Italy

Phil Rizzuto was such an integral part of the New York Yankees’ success in the 1940s and 1950s – when the team won nine American League pennants and seven World Series titles during his 13 seasons with the club – that fellow Hall of Famer Ted Williams once remarked: “If the Red Sox would have had Phil, we would have won all those pennants.”

“I hustled and got on base and made the double play,” Rizzuto said. “That’s all the Yankees needed in those days, somebody who could get on base, make the double play and not make too many errors. The other guys did all the work, all the RBIs and home runs.”

The 5-foot-6, 150-pounds Rizzuto, nicknamed “Scooter,” broke into the Yankees’ lineup in 1941 and became an All-Star the next season. From 1943-45, Rizzuto served in the U.S. Navy, returning to the diamond in 1946.

By 1949, Rizzuto had become an offensive force as well as a defensive stalwart, finishing second in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting after hitting .275 with 110 runs scored. The next season, Rizzuto was even better. He posted career-highs in hits (200), batting average (.324), on-base percentage (.418), runs (125), home runs (7), walks (92), doubles (36) and slugging percentage (.439.) while winning the AL MVP Award.

Website: Phil Rizzuto

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