Some of our young readers may ask: “Jimmy who?” People from the older generations, though, specially around the tri-state area, have not forgotten him an still hold a special place in their heart for this controversial singer who spurned Sinatra and the low level mobsters but thrived in the company of more famous one (illustrious and controversial his solo performance at the wedding of John Gotti Jr. and his loyal following of various heavies of the underworld at his concerts).
Long Islanders, whether they came from Brooklyn, Queens or Massapequa, attended in hordes the Italian Catskills in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. Only during the nineties the number of vacationers started to abandon the various “Italian” resorts for other locations outside of the country. In those “amazing years” the outings of Italian Americans and Italophiles were mainly aimed at those resorts because it was there that they could find a link to their roots through exposure to Italian music, games of bocce and interaction with other Italian Americans. I recollect working as a social director at a resort named Villaggio Italia, in Haines Falls, few miles from Hunter Mountain. Roselli’s song Mala Femmena, of which he purportedly sold more than 5 million copies, was the most requested, both for his musical value and the emotion that it would stir in the audience. I knew the song was not originally his and was made famous in Italy by its composer, Totò, but everyone who would ask for the song would unfailingly refer to Roselli, because he was the one who heralded it in the USA.
Notwithstanding Roselli’s perfect Neapolitan diction and marvelous voice, his panache made it the national hymn of Italian Americans and the favorite Italian song in the Saloons and night clubs of America and the most known Italian song, aside from Volare.
I also remember meeting Jimmy Roselli in the occasion of the presentation of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” by L’Idea Magazine, the Quarterly of which I have been editorial Director for over 20 years. At the time I noted his dazzling persona and the authenticity of his expressions, which did not seem to take in account neither the venue nor the public present. He had to say what he had to say, regardless. That made him very different from all the big time entertainers I had met before. He never hid his lowly origins or his bluntness, but he was a great singer and he knew it. He did not want to be considered anything but that…
That is what we’ll remember him for: a great singer who brought fame to the Neapolitan songs in the USA.