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Frank Sinatra’s Irish Connection

April 20, 2012

No singer defined my childhood more than Frank Sinatra.

Before I can remember knowing who he was or what era he belonged to, before I can remember the creeping need to learn Italian, that language that stuck on my teeth from the moment I heard Domenico Modugno’s  ‘Volare,’ I knew the words to “Love and Marriage,” “Night and Day,” and “The Lady is a Tramp.” (I never really understood why the lady was a tramp, though.)

I still remember when my dad told me that Frank Sinatra had passed away. I was crushed and I cried. I don’t remember any other celebrity death ever affecting me in any way at all. Just Frank’s.

Sinatra was the soundtrack of my childhood. I even made a music video with one of my friends to “You Make Me Feel So Young.”

As a proud Irish girl with not a drop of Italian blood in me, I was kind of thrilled to read about Sinatra’s Irish connection in Amore: The Story of Italian American Song, by Mark Rotella.

Sinatra was not a typical Southern Italian immigrant. His dad was Sicilian (from Agrigento), but his mom Dolly was from Genova. As is typical, the parents’ families did not get along very well. When they relocated to America, Sinatra’s dad wanted to make his living as a fighter, so he changed his name to O’Brien to be taken more seriously. Sinatra’s mom then became Dolly O’Brien, and with her Irish name and her Northern looks, she easily befriended Irish politicians and brought them Italian votes. Being perceived as Irish was very helpful, since the Irish community was much more established in New York at the time.

Rotella’s book has chapters on all of the major Italian-American singers and I’m looking forward to learning more about Dean Martin, Louis Prima, Vic Damone, and all the rest.

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