Frankie Avalon was born Francis Thomas Avallone on September 18, 1940, in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to parents of Italian heritage. His song “Venus” became his first No. 1 single in 1959 and he released six more Top 40 records in that year alone. Avalon was on U.S. television playing his trumpet by the time he was 11. Two singles showcasing Avalon’s trumpet playing were issued on RCA Victor’s “X” sublabel in 1954 and, as a teenager, he played with Bobby Rydell in Rocco and the Saints.
His father, Nicholas Avallone, a multi-instrumentalist, nurtured Frankie’s artistic ambitions. Avalon broke into show business as a child prodigy, earning an appearance on The Jackie Gleason Show and making records for RCA Victor Records. He had an authentic music background to go with his good looks and it was that talent that allowed him to succeed. By 1962, the singer’s four-year domination of the music charts was coming to an end, but his career wasn’t. He teamed up with Annette Funicello and reinvented himself as a clean-cut surfer in the very successful Beach Party surfer film series.
Avalon also had straight dramatic parts. He acted in the John Wayne historical western film, The Alamo, as well as the science-fiction story, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, (1961) with Barbara Eden. His performance of “Beauty School Dropout” in the hit 1978 film of the musical, Grease, introduced Avalon to a new generation of viewers. Avalon appeared in nearly two dozen TV show episodes, including ABC’s The Bing Crosby Show and The Patty Duke Show.
Later, he became a national television spokesperson for Sonic Drive-In. He created a line of health and beauty care line called Frankie Avalon Products and has marketed his products on the Home Shopping Network. Avalon married Kathryn “Kay” Diebel on January 19, 1963. Still together, they have eight children and 10 grandchildren.
Joni James (born Giovanna Carmella Babbo) on September 22, 1930. James was born into an Italian family in Chicago. As an adolescent, she studied drama and ballet and after graduating from high school went with a local dance group on a tour of Canada. She then took a job as a chorus girl in the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. However, she decided to pursue a singing career. Some executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) spotted her in a television commercial and she was signed by MGM in 1952. Her first hit, “Why Don’t You Believe Me?” sold over two million copies. She had a number of hits following that one, including “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, “Have You Heard?”,”Almost Always” (#9 in 1953), “My Love, My Love” (#8 in 1953,) “How Important Can It Be?” (#2 in 1955) and “You Are My Love” (#6 in 1955), as well as, sixteen other Top 40 hits from 1952 to 1961.
James married composer-conductor Tony Acquaviva at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in 1956. In 1964 she retired from the music industry because Acquaviva was in bad health. She cared for him until his death in 1986. In 1997, she married retired Air Force General Bernard Adolph Schriever, 20 years her senior, the leader of the program that developed U.S. ballistic missiles. For many years, she was out of the public eye, but began touring again in the mid 1990s, performing memorable concerts at New York’s Town Hall, Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall. In October, 2001, just a few weeks after 9/11, she appeared at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, accompanied by the Count Basie orchestra. The streets of the city were still lined with armed soldiers and she was a guest of honor at the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Tribute to Barbra Streisand. With her renewed popularity, nearly her entire body of work was released on the Capitol-EMI, DRG and Tarragon labels under her personal supervision and in 2000 she released a brand-new recording, “Latest and Greatest”. For her contributions to the entertainment industry, James has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Bobby Darin (born Walden Robert Cassotto; May 14, 1936 – December 20, 1973) was an American singer, songwriter and actor of film and television. He performed in a range of music genres, including pop, rock’n’roll, jazz, folk and country.
Darin was born in the Bronx borough of New York City and was reared by his grandparents. His maternal grandfather, Saverio Antonio Cassotto, was of Italian descent and his maternal grandmother, Vivian Fern (Walden), was of English and Danish ancestry. By the time he was a teenager, he could play several instruments, including piano, drums and guitar. He later added harmonica and xylophone. Darin graduated from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science and he matriculated at Hunter College, but soon dropped out in order to play nightclubs around the city with a musical combo. Darin’s career took off with a songwriting partnership, formed in 1955 with fellow Bronx High School of Science student, Don Kirshner. In 1956 his agent negotiated a contract with Decca Records but the songs recorded at Decca had very little success. Other songs he recorded such as, “I Found a Million Dollar Baby”, were sung in an Elvis style and did not suit his personality. It was during this period in his career that Darin was introduced to singer Connie Francis, for whom he helped write several songs. They developed a romantic interest of which her father did not approve and the couple soon split up. Francis has said that not marrying Darin was the biggest mistake of her life.
Darin left Decca to sign with Atlantic Records, where he wrote and arranged music for himself and others. Darin’s career finally took off in 1958 when he recorded “Splish Splash.” The single sold more than a million copies In 1959. Next, Darin recorded the self-penned, “Dream Lover”, a ballad that became a multi-million seller. With it came financial success and the ability to demand more creative control of his career. His next single, “Mack the Knife”, the standard from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, was given a jazz-pop interpretation. Although Darin initially was opposed to releasing it as a single, the song went to No. 1 on the charts for nine weeks, sold two million copies and won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1960. Darin was also voted the Grammy Award for Best New Artist that year and “Mack The Knife” has since been honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Darin followed “Mack” with “Beyond the Sea”.
In 1959, he was the only actor ever to have been signed to five major Hollywood film studios. He wrote music for several films in which he appeared. His first major film, Come September (1960), was a teenage-oriented romantic comedy and Darin won the Golden Globe Award for “New Star Of The Year – Actor” for his role in the film. The following year he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Best actor) in the film, Pressure Point. In 1963, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a shell-shocked soldier in Captain Newman, M.D and at the Cannes Film Festival he won the French Film Critics Award for best actor for his performance in that film.
Darin suffered from poor health his entire life. In 1973, after failing to take antibiotics to protect his heart before a dental visit, Darin developed a systemic infection (sepsis). This further weakened his body and affected one of his heart valves. He checked himself into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for another round of open-heart surgery to repair the two artificial heart valves he had received in January 1971. On the evening of December 19, a five-man surgical team worked for over six hours to repair his damaged heart. Darin died shortly after the surgery ended in the recovery room in the early morning hours of December 20, 1973, at the age of 37, without regaining consciousness.
Sonny Bono, born Salvatore Phillip Bono, (February 16, 1935 – January 5, 1998) was an American recording artist, record producer, actor and politician whose career spanned over three decades. Bono was born in Detroit, MI to Italian immigrants, Santo Bono (born in Montelepre, Palermo, Italy) and Zena La Valle. Sonny was the youngest of three siblings and he had two older sisters, Fran and Betty. Bono began his music career working at Specialty Records where his song, “Things You Do to Me”, was recorded by Sam Cooke and went on to work for the record producer Phil Spector in the early 1960s as a promotion man, percussionist and “gofer”. One of his earliest songwriting efforts was “Needles and Pins” which he co-wrote with Jack Nitzsche, another member of Spector’s production team. Later in the same decade, he achieved commercial success, along with his wife, Cher, as part of the singing duo Sonny and Cher. Bono wrote, arranged and produced a number of hit records with singles like, “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On”. He also played a major part in Cher’s early solo career with recordings such as “Bang Bang” and “You Better Sit Down Kids”.
Bono co-wrote the song “She Said Yeah”, which was sung by The Rolling Stones on their 1965 LP, “December’s Children”. Bono also recorded as a solo artist under the name of Sonny. He had only one hit single as a solo artist, “Laugh at Me”. “Laugh at Me” was released in 1965 and peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. In live concerts, Bono would sing the song with an introduction of, “I’d like to sing a medley of my hit.” His only other single as a solo artist was, “The Revolution Kind”, which reached number 70 on the Billboard Hot 100 later that same year. Sonny continued to work with Cher through the early and mid-1970s starring in a popular television variety show, The Sonny and Cher Show, which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1974. From 1976 to 1977, the couple returned to performing together on The Sonny and Cher Show despite being divorced.
Bono entered politics after experiencing great frustration with local government bureaucracy in trying to open a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. Bono placed a successful bid to become the new mayor of Palm Springs. He served four years (1988 to 1992). He was instrumental in spearheading the creation of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which is held each year in Bono’s memory. Bono was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994 to represent California’s 44th congressional district. He was one of twelve co-sponsors of a House bill concerning copyright laws. Although that bill was never voted on in the Senate, a similar Senate bill was passed after his death and named the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in his memory. He championed the restoration of the Salton Sea, bringing the giant lake’s plight to national attention. Bono died on January 5, 1998, of injuries sustained when he hit a tree while skiing at Lake Tahoe, California.
Jon Bon Jovi was born John Francis Bongiovi, Jr. in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the son of two former Marines, John Francis Bongiovi, Sr. and Carol Sharkey. He has two brothers, Anthony and Matthew. His father is of Italian descent (from Sciacca, Sicily) and and his mother is of German and Russian descent. John spent most of his adolescence skipping school to opt for music activities and ended up playing in local bands with friends and his cousin Tony Bongiovi, who owned the New York recording studio, The Power Station. By the time he was 16, John Bongiovi was playing clubs. It was not long before he joined up with keyboardist, David Bryan, who played with him in a ten-piece rhythm and blues band called, Atlantic City Expressway. John also performed with bands called The Rest, The Lechers and John Bongiovi and the Wild Ones.
Jon Bon Jovi was working sweeping floors at his cousin Tony Bongiovi’s recording studio, when Meco was there recording “Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album”. Tony recommended Bongiovi for the song, “R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and this became his first professional recording. In June 1982, Jon Bon Jovi recorded a song called “Runaway”. He went to several record companies, including Atlantic Records and Mercury (PolyGram), but they all turned him down. Jon Bon Jovi visited the major rock station, WAPP 103.5FM “The Apple,” in New York City. He spoke directly to the promotion directo,r John Lassman, who accepted the song “Runaway” for inclusion on the station’s compilation album of local homegrown talent. “Runaway” became a local hit. Shortly after, Mercury Records gave Jon Bon Jovi a recording contract and he formed his band. The band released their first album on January 21, 1984 and became an international act in the late 1980s, when they released their breakthrough album “Slippery When Wet”. Their fourth album, “New Jersey”, which was released in 1988, became as successful as its predecessor. Following the group’s success, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, his lead guitarist, were asked to assist in producing Cher’s self-titled album. Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora co-wrote and sang backup vocals on Cher’s single, “We All Sleep Alone”, and also produced several other tracks on the album. They also co-produced Cher’s multi-platinum album, “Heart of Stone” in 1989 and co-wrote the song, “Does Anybody Really Fall In Love Anymore?”.
In 1990, Jon Bon Jovi recorded a soundtrack to the movie Young Guns II more commonly known as, Blaze of Glory. Having been originally approached by his friend, Emilio Estevez, to assist on the theme song,”Wanted Dead Or Alive”, for the upcoming Billy the Kid sequel, Jon Bon Jovi ended up composing an all-new theme song for the film’s soundtrack and producing his first solo album. The album featured high profile guests such as Elton John, Little Richard and Jeff Beck. The title track, “Blaze of Glory”, peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1991, “Blaze of Glory” won an award for Favorite Pop/Rock Single at the American Music Awards and won a Golden Globe, as well. The song also earned Jon Bon Jovi an Academy Award nomination and a Grammy. Jon Bon Jovi has worked on behalf of the Special Olympics, the American Red Cross, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Covenant House, Project H.O.M.E., The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and other groups.
Madonna was born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan, on August 16, 1958. Her father, Silvio Anthony Ciccone, is a first-generation Italian American (with roots in Pacentro, Italy), while her mother, Madonna Louise (née Fortin), was of French Canadian descent. Her father worked as a design engineer for Chrysler and General Motors. As Madonna had the same name as her mother, family members called her “Little Nonni”. Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 30, in 1963. Madonna turned to her grandmother in the hope of finding some solace. The Ciccone siblings resented housekeepers and invariably rebelled against anyone brought into their home ostensibly to take the place of their beloved mother. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Madonna commented that she saw herself in her youth as a “lonely girl who was searching for something”.
Madonna later attended Rochester Adams High School, where she became a straight-A student and a member of the cheerleading squad. After graduating, she received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan. She convinced her father to allow her to take ballet lessons and was persuaded by Christopher Flynn, her ballet teacher, to pursue a career in dance. In 1978, she dropped out of college and relocated to New York City. She had little money and worked as a waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts and with modern dance troupes.
After her success as a dance club singer, Madonna developed her debut album, Madonna, which was primarily produced by Reggie Lucas, a Warner Bros. producer. However, she was not happy with the completed tracks and disagreed with Lucas’ production techniques, so she decided to seek additional help. Madonna asked her, then, boyfriend John “Jellybean” Benitez, for help in finishing the album’s production. Benitez remixed most of the tracks and produced “Holiday”, which was her third single and her first global hit. The overall sound of Madonna was dissonant and in the form of upbeat synthetic disco, utilizing some of the new technology of the time, like the Linn drum machine, Moog bass and the OB-X synthesizer. The album was released in July 1983 and peaked at number eight on the Billboard 200, six months later and in 1984. It yielded two more hit singles, “Borderline” and “Lucky Star”.
Madonna’s look and style of dressing, her performances and her music videos influenced young girls and women and her style became one of the female fashion trends of the 1980s. It was created by stylist and jewelry designer, Maripol, and the look consisted of lace tops, skirts over capri pants, fishnet stockings, jewelry bearing the crucifix, bracelets and bleached hair. Madonna achieved global recognition after the release of her second studio album, “Like a Virgin”, in November 1984. It topped the charts in several countries and became her first number one album on the Billboard 200. The title track, “Like a Virgin”, topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six consecutive weeks. Beginning in April 1985, Madonna embarked on her first concert tour in North America, The Virgin Tour, with the Beastie Boys as her opening act. She progressed from playing the dance clubs to playing sporting arenas. At that time she released two more hit singles from the album, “Angel” and “Dress You Up”.
In June 1986, Madonna released her third studio album, “True Blue”, which was inspired by and dedicated to Sean Penn (to whom she was married to at the time). Rolling Stone Magazine was generally impressed with the album and It spawned three number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100: “Live to Tell”, “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Open Your Heart”, and two more top-five singles: “True Blue” and “La Isla Bonita”. The album topped the charts in over 28 countries worldwide, an unprecedented achievement at the time, and became the best-selling studio album of her career to this date with sales of 25 million. In 2008, Billboard magazine ranked Madonna at number two, behind only, The Beatles, on the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists, making her the most successful solo artist in the history of the American singles chart. Throughout her career, Madonna has repeatedly reinvented herself through a series of visual and musical personae. In 1990, with earnings of more than $125 million since 1986 and as the highest-grossing woman in entertainment, Forbes Magazine “suggested that she was one of the smartest businesswomen in the United States”.
First Course Italian Pasta Dishes
Pasta with Eggplant and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- 1 pound spaghetti or other long pasta
- 2 thin eggplants, trimmed and cut into small cubes
- 1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes In olive oil, reserve 3 tablespoons oil from the sun-dried tomato jar
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
- 4 cups canned Italian tomatoes, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
For the sauce:
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrot and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Sauté until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaf and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
For the pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil from the sun-dried tomato jar in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the diced eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and the marinara sauce and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked pasta to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and add the mozzarella cheese, basil and the remaining salt and pepper. Transfer to shallow pasta bowls, top with parmesan cheese and serve.
Orecchiette with Ricotta and Chard
- 1 large bunch green or red Swiss chard
- 3/4 pound dried Orecchiette or other short pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 ounces Asiago or Pecorino cheese, freshly grated
- Freshly ground black pepper and/or nutmeg
- 1/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, divided
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
- Freshly grated Asiago or Pecorino cheese, for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling. Separate chard stems from leaves; cut both in bite-sized pieces. Add orecchiette to boiling water. Set timer for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, add chard leaves to the pasta and cook for 2 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of cooking liquid. Return pasta and chard to pot.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chard stems; cook 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender.
Place the pot with the pasta over lowest heat setting. Add sauteed chard stems and any residual oil to pasta, along with the butter, crushed red pepper and reserved cooking liquid.
Add grated cheese; toss. Season with pepper and nutmeg.
Divide among pasta bowls. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon ricotta. Add sea salt, pepper and additional grated cheese to taste.
Penne with Walnuts and Peppers
- 8 ounces whole wheat or multigrain penne
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 medium green and/or red and/or yellow sweet peppers, seeded and cut lengthwise into bite-size strips
- 1 small red onion, sliced thin
- 1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add walnuts and garlic. Cook about 2 minutes or until light brown, stirring frequently.
Add sweet peppers and red onion. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are crisp tender, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes; cook and stir until heated through.
Stir in parsley, rosemary and black pepper. Put pasta in a large shallow bowl. Top with walnut-pepper mixture; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
- Italian American Culture – The Art Of Writing(jovinacooksitalian.com)